Story and Photos by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
On Oct. 13, eighth graders from Veronica Connor Middle School could be seen walking down the multipurpose trail on the West River. They were carrying garbage bags and collecting litter from the trail, as well as from the area between the trail and the river.
In addition, a group assisted in the planting of a demonstration pollinator garden in the median across from Riverside-Salem Environmental Chapel, 3449 West River Road.
The cleanup was part of the October Vikings Care initiative, which provides every student in the Grand Island Central School District with the opportunity to perform community service.
Michelle Lockett, community engagement director for the Niagara River Greenway Commission, said, “The goal was to motivate students to want to clean up our waterways and understand why it is important, and then ultimately have them experience all the mental and physical benefits of doing a community cleanup.
“Participating in a community clean up really makes a person feel good about what they did. I wanted these students to feel proud and happy about their accomplishments, and I think they did based on all the smiles we saw. In fact, they did not want to leave the gardening project when it was time to go.
Lockett said she visited 10 eighth grade science classes to explain “why they should feel lucky to live within the Great Lakes Watershed and surrounded by the Niagara River, which is classified as a Significant Globally Important Bird Area and an International Ramsar Wetland site. We are home to an incredible amount (more than 335) of different bird species and rare and endangered plant and wildlife species. The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater system in the world supplying more than 30 million people with drinking water, something we shouldn't take for granted and should be good stewards of. I informed them that there is a serious plastic pollution in Lake Erie – similar to that of the Great Pacific garbage batch – and described why that plastic is very dangerous to our wildlife.
“The demonstration pollinator garden that was installed on West River is designed to show our community what a native garden can look like and the wildlife it can bring. There are a number of native bees, butterflies and birds that are either on the endangered list or close to it, and we want to reverse that. If more people created native gardens in their yards, we could all help create more habitat for these very important pollinators. A demonstration garden with educational interpretive signage will help raise awareness of our ecosystems and how to help maintain them.”
Roger Cook of Riverside Salem Environmental Chapel said, “Native plants are important for the survival of insects like the monarch butterfly. They only lay their eggs on milkweed. That’s why we planted swamp milkweed in the garden. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars will feed on the milkweed leaves, the only food they will eat. No milkweed, no monarchs. The adult butterflies will feed on the milkweed and other flowers that we planted, pollinating them as they drink the nectar, the food that allows them to fly all the way to Mexico. Other native plants will provide food for bees and hummingbirds.”
The garden was a collaboration between the Grand Island Nature Alliance, Niagara River Greenway, New York State Parks (which donated most of the plants, and prepared the area), Eastern Monarch Butterfly Farm (which provided the expertise with planning and implementation), Buffalo River Compost (which donated the compost), and the Town of Grand Island (which supplied the mulch).
Lockett said, “The Grand Island Nature Alliance has volunteered to maintain the garden, which will not require too much as it matures, a benefit to planting native plants.”
There were 160 eighth graders participating in the litter pickup on Oct. 13. Lockett said they “picked up about 20 bags of garbage, four tires, 100 pounds of steel, 20 pounds of wood and 10 pounds of plastic.”
Two small groups of students were out earlier in the week, cleaning up sections of Beaver Island and Buckhorn Island state parks.
“In Buckhorn, they actually worked on trimming small branches away from the trail, (which) made it much more accessible,” Lockett said.