MORNING SUN — Motorists and butterflies have welcomed a vibrant transformation taking place at the Morning Sun Outpost, a maintenance and storage facility managed by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).
A five-acre portion of the facility now hosts a pollinator habitat plot that was designed, implemented, and funded by volunteer members of the Shady Hollow Longbeards, a wildlife conservation club based in Camden. The project is located near the intersection of State Routes 177 and 732, about three miles southwest of Camden, in Preble County.
The club’s goal was to establish a lush stand of native grasses and wildflowers to benefit resident and migrant pollinators, enhance the property’s aesthetic qualities, and eliminate the need to periodically mow idle land.
The group approached ODOT officials in early 2017 and received enthusiastic support for the project. ODOT is a major partner in the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, a statewide coalition of organizations working to develop pollinator habitat and to educate Ohioans about the critical importance of pollinators. Club volunteers drafted a proposal, met with ODOT representatives, and eventually signed a formal agreement allowing the project to move forward.
Volunteers devoted a full year to preparing the plot, using several applications of herbicides to eliminate invasive weeds, such as tall fescue, wild carrot, and Canada thistle. In mid-June, they planted the area using a special no-till drill capable of planting the fluffy seeds of warm-season vegetation. Composed of five species of grasses and over 40 species of wildflowers, the seed mix will establish a diverse, native plant community that provides blooms from May through October.
Favorable summer weather permitted several species to germinate, grow, and even bloom, and by mid-September the nascent plot boasted the showy flowers of black-eyed Susan, several legumes, sunflowers, and three species of milkweeds. Not surprisingly, migrating monarch butterflies were abundant.
Although the project was designed with insect pollinators in mind, the plot will benefit a host of other wildlife, including songbirds. The club erected eight nesting boxes that will attract bluebirds, tree swallows, and wrens. The structures were hand-crafted from cedar by members of Boy Scout Troop 107, of West Alexandria.
Shady Hollow Longbeards is a chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, an international not-for-profit organization and leader in wildlife habitat conservation that has spent more than $488 million conserving over 17 million acres of habitat in North America. Since the chapter’s inception, in 1996, it has worked within its local service area to create and enhance over 1,200 acres of wildlife habitat on private and public lands.
In 2006, the group restored a 16-acre oak savanna on the Woodland Trails Wildlife Area, an ODNR-Division of Wildlife property just north of Camden. More recently, the club developed a wildlife area within Hueston Woods State Park. Located adjacent to Hedgerow Road, the project features 14 acres of native prairie, vernal pools, hiking trails, a wildlife observation blind, and interpretive signage.