Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Makes Way for Pollinators in Yonkers, NY
On a clear fall day in early November, staff from Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge and Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge gathered to celebrate the opening of a pollinator garden at Yonkers’ School 13, a pre-K to 8 school in south Yonkers. The garden was created with the support of funding from the National Conservation Training Center, expertise from refuge staff, and was built by the Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Yonkers Urban Rangers, high school students who are paid to work on conservation projects throughout the year. The effort is another component of the Yonkers Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, which was established in 2014.
For at least 7 years, School 13 and Groundwork-Hudson Valley together have had the idea of establishing a garden outside the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) classroom. The entire school property is paved and surrounded by fencing, leaving little room for nature-based discovery at school. With the establishment of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership and the collaboration of Groundwork and Service partners, identifying a source of funding for the pollinator garden became a high priority. That funding was secured in 2015, with support from the National Conservation Training Center’s Division of Education and Outreach. The newly built pollinator garden also comes with a curriculum support binder to help the teachers utilize the garden in their lesson planning, and Groundwork support to help implement those lessons in the classroom.
The garden features plants chosen to represent four habitat types – wetlands, meadows, forest understories, and grasslands. Blooming in either spring or fall, the chosen plantings should provide habitat for butterflies, bees, and wasps (dare we hope for a hummingbird?!) in a part of Yonkers dominated by impervious surfaces. Acting as a bridge to the natural world, the pollinator garden features a 19-foot long backdrop mural of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, helping the students to feel more connected to wild places. In future years, student-led tending and planting will help the garden to grow in species diversity and value. The garden’s creation should prove to be a valuable asset not just for pollinators, but for the students, teachers, and the community, helping all to appreciate the value of the outdoors. With the spring 2017 groundbreaking of a rails-to-trails project just one block from the school, the pollinator garden may become the first in a series of accessible nature-labs available to these Yonkers youth.