At the edge of a parking lot in Manitou Springs, there’s a modest garden measuring 40 feet long and 4 feet wide.
It is a “pollinator-friendly garden,” according to a posted sign. It is not all that pretty, admits Melody Daugherty.
“People want the showy roses and petunias that are not native,” she said. “But for us to get our pollinator populations healthy and thriving, we gotta go native.”
That’s part of the mission for the Manitou Springs Pollinator Project, a grassroots effort led by Daugherty.
The group’s website addresses the plight of these creatures — butterflies, bees, moths, beetles and hummingbirds among them. They ferry pollen between plants, enabling them to produce seeds.
A vast array of our food and other crops depend on pollinators, which explains why their reported decline due to development, chemical use and climate change has been considered a crisis.
A global analysis in 2019 warned 40% of insect species had declining populations. Other analyses suggest bee populations have been falling since the 1990s. The loss is believed to be more drastic for western-migrating monarch butterflies — down by as much as 99.9% since the ’80s, according to a study published last year.
The numbers make Daugherty grip her chest.
“My heart,” she said. “My heart.”
Her passion in 2019 led her to Amy Yarger, horticulture director at Butterfly Pavilion.
By its description, the Westminster nonprofit aims to “transform the way people think about invertebrates,” famously doing so with a rainforest-like exhibit where 1,600 butterflies frolic.
Yarger’s focus: “How do we put habitat back to increase biodiversity?”
An answer to that question was presented in 2019, when Butterfly Pavilion announced plans for a “Pollinator District” at Baseline, the emerging residential and business sector in Broomfield that will eventually serve as the organization’s new home.
Baseline would be the first place of its kind certified as pollinator-friendly, with the proper vegetation, gardening practices and invertebrate dwellers to show for it.
Then along came Daugherty.
Could her hometown of Manitou Springs be the first preexisting town to be a Pollinator District?
She and Yarger have explored the possibility.
Next Saturday by the pollinator-friendly garden at Mansions Park in Manitou, they’ll host a “pollinator party” — a free, family event that will include activities and promote the Pollinator District’s vision.
That vision is shared by Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District, the nonprofit with a broader regional reach, as well as the Manitou Springs School District, where leaders have pledged to teach about pollinators.
Manitou Springs’ path to Pollinator District designation will take years, Yarger said. Success depends on measurable outcomes, including drawing more pollinators through communitywide planting practices, from private backyards to public sidewalks and open spaces, she said.
“It’s important to know this is not Butterfly Pavilion coming into a community and saying you have to do this and this and this,” Yarger said. “This is really a community-led effort.”
There would be a “social and educational” component to encourage residents to be more friendly to pollen-spreaders, she said. “How is everybody informed and engaged?”
Enter the Manitou Springs Pollinator Project.
At Mansions Park, Daugherty and fellow concerned residents tend to the pollinator-friendly garden to act as a small showcase of native, drought-tolerant plants.
More seeds are on the way, Daugherty said: annuals such as the Rocky Mountain bee plant, perennials including milkweed, prairie sage, dotted blazing star and Rocky Mountain penstemon along with shrubs and grasses.
One recent afternoon, Daugherty delighted at the buzz around purple salvia.
“Oh my gosh! Look at this!” she remarked, starting to count the bees. “There’s one, two, three, there’s five right on this one plant. Wow.”