‘Habitat Heroes’ plans further outreach

Cody Willoughby | AIM Media Midwest

Park naturalist “Sequoia Steve” Pope teaches pollinator-oriented songs to fourth graders during an installment of “Habitat Heroes: Hug the Pollinators” on Tuesday at Concord Elementary.

TROY — As Miami County residents enter spring, a passion for pollinator protection is being cultivated at Concord Elementary, thanks to the Miami County Park District’s new program, “Habitat Heroes: Hug the Pollinators.”

Concord holds the distinction of being Miami County’s first elementary to join the program.

According to Cinda Hanbuch-Pinkerton, director of education for the Miami County Park District, the goal of the program is to educate students on the impact that pollinators have on everyday human life.

“Our goal with every program is to help connect kids and their families to the outdoors, and how their actions can protect the wildlife and its resources,” Hanbuch-Pinkerton said. “This program has a major focus on raising awareness that many of the little creatures, like bees and beetles, which people often don’t think twice about are the reason we can eat.

“We hope to encourage a mindset of having healthy environments around our homes and schools, where toxic herbicides aren’t used in order to keep pollinators safe. Right now across the nation, these creatures are in trouble. Their habitats are disappearing, and it directly affects our food sources.”

Throughout the school year, students grades K-5 have engaged in pollinator education through interactive visits form park naturalists, classroom academic activities, literary and creative arts lessons, and visits to library and park site “storybook trails.”

In November, Concord students took a field trip to Stillwater Prairie Reserve, where they engaged in such activities as using nets to catch pollinators and experienced a live beehive.

Following the experience at Stillwater, Concord students each planted an Ohio-native plant in a new pollinator garden located in the rear of Concord’s property. Students also painted a picket fence surrounding the garden, as well as stepping stones that traverse the garden.

“We’ve got a garden club now here at the school, where the kids during recess will go out and weed, and water, and take care of the plants,” Hanbuch-Pinkerton said. “We’re also going to be doing some seeding in the spring, where kids get to go out there and spread some seeds.”

The program will culminate at the Hug the Earth Festival this spring, with a performing arts experience featuring the Banana Slug String Band on Thursday, May 9. Concord students will also perform in a “family night show,” to be held at Treasure Island Municipal Park the same evening.

“Each grade is learning a different song about what it’s like to be a habitat hero,” Hanbuch-Pinkerton said. “They’re going to be making a costume that goes with that song, and the entire school will be there to perform their part of the show.”

The Miami County Park District intends to carry the “Habitat Heroes” program into a new Miami County elementary school each year, and it was announced that next year’s school would be Troy’s Kyle Elementary.

“We only have enough resources each year to host one building as our pollinator school,” Hanbuch-Pinkerton said. “We had some Kyle teachers who were talking to teachers here at Concord that thought the program sounded outstanding. We hope to move throughout all of Miami County to raise awareness on what every family can do to protect our pollinators, our food sources, and our health.”

The Habitat Heroes project is funded in part by an Ohio Environmental Education Fund grant of nearly $50,000 from the Ohio EPA, as well as a grant of $25,000 from the Neils A. & Ruth Lundgard Foundation.

For more information on park programs, visit www.miamicountyparks.com.