Discover Life in America dedicated the pollinator garden at Sugarlands Visitor Center on May 18 and kicked off its Science at Sugarlands series, a collection of talks to be held the third Friday of each month through October. A collaboration between DLIA, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Great Smoky Mountains Association, the pollinator garden project used native plants to rehabilitate ten existing overgrown plant beds and to provide much-needed habitat for native pollinators.
“One goal of the project is to connect the visitors with the natural community and remind them of the important interactions between flora and fauna,” said DLIA Executive Director Todd Witcher. “Signage was developed to interpret the beds and to inform visitors about creating habitat for pollinators in their own backyard.”
The garden had been a gleam in Witcher’s eye since 2014 when the White House implemented a National Pollinator Health Strategy. “It was recognized that there has been a decline in insect pollinators nationwide, so funding was made available to agencies for projects that address this issue, including research and habitat improvements,” he said.
The park received funding to improve the gardens at Sugarlands Visitor Center through the NPS Biological Resources Division. Funds were then transferred, via task agreement, to Discover Life in America. GSMA provided the design and artwork for signage, which features illustration by Emma DuFort and production oversight by Senior Publications Specialist Lisa Horstman.
“The decline of our insect pollinators is of great concern for the park, for DLIA, and for all of us,” said Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, who, along with Witcher, unveiled the sign. “This is our way of showcasing this issue and engaging our visitors to learn more.”
Jordan and Witcher thanked Avi Askey at Overhill Gardens in Vonore, Tennessee, who provided the initial planting design; Todd Amacker Conservation Visuals who developed the Meet the Pollinators E-book; and the many volunteers who implemented the plan, including long-time park volunteers, interns, local Master Gardener groups, and retired NPS employees. They also recognized the many park divisions that were involved.
“Resource Management, spearheaded by Park Entomologist Becky Nichols, initiated and carried out the project in partnership with DLIA,” Witcher said. “Resource Education has been an integral part of the project from the beginning. The Facilities Department was very helpful and provided anything we requested, such as loads of mulch, sign installation, etc.”
Following the unveiling, Witcher led a discussion about the DLIA-managed All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, a groundbreaking effort to identify and understand every one of the estimated 60,000 to 80,000 forms of life within the park, of which more than 19,000 are currently known. It began on Earth Day in 1998 now both DLIA and the ATBI are celebrating their 20thyear.
To commemorate its anniversary and provide learning opportunities related to the ATBI, DLIA will host five more talks in the Science at Sugarlands series:
June 15: Bioluminescence in the Park by Will Kuhn, University of Tennessee (see article in this issue of the Cub Report)
July 20: Smokies Spiders and their Kin, Kefyn Catley, Western Carolina University
August 17: The Problems and Solutions with our Hemlocks, Jesse Webster, GSMNP
September 21: Butterflies and Caterpillars in the Smokies, Julie Elliott, Lepidopteran Specialist
October 19: Beetles of the Smokies, Claire Winfrey, University of Tennessee
These talks all begin at 1 p.m. and are family-friendly, free and open to the public at Sugarlands Visitor Center, 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Road, Gatlinburg, TN.