Can Winona pollinator corridor put endangered bees on road to recovery?
The Pleasant Valley Pollinator Corridor has funded 40 projects under the “Lawns to Legumes” program.
WINONA, Minn. — At nearly 16 square miles, the Pleasant Creek valley in Winona County, Minnesota is big for a “neighborhood.”
The area is also home to a population of the endangered rusty patched bumblebee, which is one reason soil and water officials are content to call the valley one.
The 15.85 square miles – 10,147 acres – of the Pleasant Valley south of Winona was designated a demonstration neighborhood under the “ Lawns to Legumes ” program in 2020. The initiative was awarded more than $30,000 in state funding.
Since then, residents in the Pleasant Valley Pollinator Corridor have been able to apply for special funding toward planting native flowers and grasses that benefit pollinators.
Last year, people living in the valley reported eight confirmed sightings of the rusty patched bumblebee, said Roberta Bumann, project coordinator.
As of May 2022, the last year of the three-year program, 40 residents have taken advantage of the matching funds to create pollinator habitat, native habitat or rain gardens in their yards and along roadsides.
Members of the corridor project said they hope to fund about 50 different individual plantings and projects. Although most of the funds have been spoken for, there’s still some money left for a few more if anyone applies in the last six months of the initiative.
The other demonstration neighborhoods cover areas measured in square blocks.
State officials tabbed the valley also in part because it does have populations of the endangered bee. Bumann said the Driftless area also seems to be a good fit.
The valley also offered state officials an opportunity to apply the Lawns to Legumes program to a widespread rural area, said Josh Lallaman, a biologist who lives in the valley.
While the grants helped make such projects more affordable, people seeing the new plantings in their own neighborhood addressed two other obstacles Bumann said keep some people from planting native grasses and flowers.
“One concern I’ve heard was people were worried it will look like a bunch of weeds,” she said.
Some people were also concerned they wouldn’t know how to care for the plants.
Watching other neighbors take the first steps helped allay both of those concerns, project leaders said.
“One of the big bonuses of this neighborhood project is neighbors seeing other neighbors doing these projects,” Lallaman said. “That’s inspired people to come up with their own, so it has had that secondary effect.”
Dave Korder, who planted a hill on his property along Cobblestone Creek after learning about the grant program from neighbors. He planted about 20 varieties of flowers and grasses May last year. Already a year later, the plot has filled out.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing how it will look when it all blooms," he said.
Bumann, a retired Mayo Clinic nurse and retired Winona State University professor, restored about 2 acres of former pastureland to prairie when she moved to the valley about 30 years ago.
“We certainly weren’t going to mow it all,” she said.
She said she and other members of the pollinator corridor committee that oversaw the grant applications have been able to answer questions and provide continued support for people's projects.
Roadside habitats have also created long, continuous swaths of pollinator habitat, which helps birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife connect with different populations, Bumann said.
“That connectedness is important for a lot of different species,” she said.
Bumann and Lallaman were joined by Amanda Gentry, of the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District, Gabe Ericksen of LandSpirit Design landscaping company, and Kaitlyn O’Connor, of Prairie Moon Nursery, which specializes in native plants on the pollinator corridor’s oversight committee.
Bumann said there’s still time to apply for funding for projects this fall. The pollinator corridor is also hosting an open house tour of some of the completed projects Aug. 6.
“The Driftless area valley is just ideal for building onto these beautiful natural areas,” Bumann said.