It’s official! The state of Ohio’s first combined travel center and pollinator garden has been opened. This pollinator garden, at the rest area on I-75 south near Bowling Green, will serve as a prototype for Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) planting projects at six other rest areas. A founding partner of the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, ODOT is a leading department of transportation in the nation working to restore public land to native prairie. The rest area presents an opportunity to reach out to the public about the importance of pollinators and habitat creation.
The road to success
The rest area closed temporarily in 2015 for construction, so ODOT took the opportunity to renovate the travel center. The Ohio Tourism Board had the idea to also install an educational pollinator garden at the site, designed to showcase native Ohio wildflowers that support pollinators. Visitors would have the opportunity to view a pollinator garden, and educational signage and materials would be provided to teach about the plight of Ohio’s pollinators.
Partnership was critical to creating this successful pollinator garden. Kim Roessner of ODOT began the planning and installation of the pollinator garden, and coordinated a team of volunteers to design, install and maintain the 0.35 acre garden site. Dan Parratt of Bowling Green City Parks designed the educational garden, selecting nectar and host plants for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds found in the area. Volunteers from ODOT’s Wood County garage, Wild Ones, Monarch Watch, Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists and Wood County Parks planted over 1500 native plants at the site. Plants were donated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Toledo Zoo, with technical expertise provided by ODNR and Monarch Watch.
Plant species were installed in bunches, creating a formal garden appearance to please pollinators and people alike. Joel Hunt, ODOT Highway Beautification and Pollinator Habitat Program Administrator, supervised the creation of educational signage for the site with a map of the garden and brief information about each plant species featured.
Hunt explains, “With agriculture being Ohio’s largest industry, worth $105 billion a year, pollinator habitats not only secure our food supply but also secure our state’s economy.” This picture shows Joel Hunt of ODOT and Corrine Jansing of Cardno Nursery with new ODOT pollinator garden sign.
The pollinator-roadside rest area connection
The garden will educate the public about ODOT efforts to create pollinator habitat, and visitors are encouraged to create pollinator gardens in their own backyards. In an innovative new approach, visitors can purchase seed packets from vending machines in the travel center. These seed packets contain many of the same plant species ODOT is currently using along Ohio roadsides. Additional plans for this site will also include a roadside prairie planting adjacent to the garden. This will enable visitors to learn about prairie plants and view them in a more naturalized setting as well.
The ODOT Pollinator Habitat Team is currently working to establish prairie plantings along roadsides in several Ohio counties, with the long-term goal of having a planting project in every county. These roadside prairie installations will help ODOT by reducing mowing and maintenance costs, while also providing pollinator habitat to support native ecosystems and the agricultural industry. It is estimated that Ohio has over 19,000 miles of roadsides. With so much public land available for pollinator habitat creation, ODOT is well positioned to make a significant contribution to pollinator conservation throughout the state.
Local news video announcing the opening of the rest stop and garden: http://www.wtol.com/story/35789473/i-75-southbound-rest-area-reopens-just-in-time-for-holiday-weekend
This post was revised from an article originally published in the August 2017 Wild Ones National Journal, written by Candy Sarikonda. The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Photos by Candy Sarikonda.