Friday, July 12, 2024

Wild and Non-Invasive With Warren County Pollinator Protectors

Native plant pollinators are insects, birds and small mammals that generate plant reproduction via pollen moving from one flower to another. Pollinators get nourishment from the plant’s nectar.

Warren County Pollinator Protectors Michelle St. Andre of Columbia, NJ and Rick Clarkson of Knowlton, NJ. Photo by L. Ward
Warren County Pollinator Protectors Michelle St. Andre of Columbia and Rick Clarkson of Knowlton. Photo by L. Ward.

Warren County Pollinator Protectors is a new group and mission, forming thanks to the passionate and educated drive of Columbia resident Michelle St. Andre.

St. Andre, who had a health food store for just under 30 years in Blairstown called Nature’s Harvest, is now involved with her husband in land preservation and volunteering with a focus on protecting the environment.

St. Andre’s recent mission to save the native plant pollinators began at the Rutgers Environmental Stewardship Certification Program, a 17-week course.

“The final requirement for the certification process is that you need to formulate a community project and work on this project for at least 60 hours,” St. Andre explained. “Some of us are working on bringing back and reenergizing some already existing pollinator gardens and then also starting new pollinator gardens. In so doing, getting rid of the major invasives like mugwort, multiflora roses, and celandines, so it is an ongoing project.”

“One of the big problems with starting pollinator gardens is that they take maintenance, the invasive always peeking through and you always have to keep them weeded, otherwise they will just die and disappear,” she said. “So, my thought was we need an established group of volunteers to do this.”

“The three of us who are taking this certification program said all right, let’s see how we can tie all this together,” Thiel continued. “Rick Clarkson and Allison Bickhardt at Knowlton Township Elementary School are not part of the certification program, but they have got these amazing projects going. So, what we have decided to do is pull many of us together and it actually turns out to be a full circle together to form a formal group.”

Warren County Commissioner James R. Kern, III has initiated a project called the Commissioners Conservation Challenge with a goal to be the first national wildlife certified county in New Jersey. Part of this is having certified wildlife areas on properties such as historic places, schools, residences, churches, parks, public properties and more.

“We’re called the Warren County Pollinator Protectors, and the short-term goal is to create a growing group of formal volunteers to meet at each of our properties once a month.”

“In other words, one month will be designated to Ramsaysburg Homestead, next month will be designated to the elementary school,” St. Andre said. “Six projects are going on. And so, once a month, we then know that each of these properties will have at least two hours of maintenance.”

Warren County Pollinator Protectors had their first meeting in May and will continue to meet on the first Monday of each month through October. The idea is to grow the group of volunteers by each person bringing one or two more volunteers. Items that are usually brought by members to the meetings include trowels, loppers, clippers and gloves.

Raising community awareness is key

“What we are hoping to do is grow this group to not only raise awareness in the community of the necessity of having these kinds of gardens but to raise the awareness that you don’t need a meadow of native pollinators,” she said. “You can use the size of this picnic table and you will attract pollinators. It’s the educational component that is important.”

Raising awareness of community members and showing the impact these small gardens can have is key in native pollination projects like these.

Words of inspiration from the wildflower advocate who is spearheading this mission:

“Pollinator gardens often take a while to get established and they are not the showy, big kind, but very free, and not sculpted. It’s a very freeform look, but once established, it is absolutely beautiful.”

Laura Ward with long pink earrings on
Laura Ward, Contributing Writer

Laura Ward is a gallerist at Infloressense in Belvidere, NJ, whose motto is "poetic synthesis of all the cultural arts." Born in West Orange, NJ, Ward had a unique childhood growing up in a three-story, three-generation, 1895 Victorian where she learned gardening with her great-grandfather, theater with her grandmother, and typing with her mom. Ward spent the last two decades in the architectural design industry, followed by her present pursuit into the entrepreneurial world of art and event planning. Ward lives in the esoteric Delaware Village Historic District and volunteers at Ramsaysburg Historic Homestead. Ward spent 11 years in Florida where she graduated with an English B.A. from FAU and later The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with an art history minor.