'Pollinator pathway' creates buzz through Catskills

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star A sign reading "Pollinators Welcome" marks a raised garden bed full of wildflower seeds at the Open Eye Theater in Margaretville, shown Wednesday. The signs and gardens are part of an initiative to develop a "pollinator pathway" along state Route 28, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway.

Municipalities, businesses, individuals and organizations along the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway are encouraged to participate in the new pollinator pathway program, designed to develop and enhance habitats for bees, butterflies and other local pollinators.

The 52-mile byway primarily follows state Route 28 as it connects the towns of Phoenicia and Andes.

“It’s already such a beautiful, natural area,” said Ulster County resident Maraleen Manos-Jones, who helped develop the pathway concept. “We just want to enhance and protect it.”

Known as “the Butterfly Lady” of Shokan, Manos-Jones said she spent several years advocating for the preservation of monarch and other pollinator habitats. She started raising and releasing the butterflies from her yard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the early 1970s, eventually tagging the insects and tracking them all the way to their winter home in Mexico. 

“This is my passion, to protect the pollinators,” she said. “I don’t know I chose the butterflies or if they chose me.”

Manos-Jones partnered with the Central Catskills Collaborative, an arm of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, to promote the pollinator pathway concept among local municipalities, businesses and residents.

In addition to providing educational materials about the use of pesticides and promoting pollinator-friendly practices for gardening and lawn care, the organization obtained a state grant to purchase and distribute wildflower seeds to groups along the byway, according to Diane Galusha, Middletown Historian and representative to the collaborative.

“There’s been a lot of interest so far,” she said. “People are aware of the plight of pollinators, but it’s good to go one step further and get outdoors, get your hands dirty and help out.”

The Margaretville Rotary Club and the Margaretville Telephone Company each donated $200 to help promote the initiative and provide "Pollinators Welcome" signs to mark the new gardens, Galusha said.

The collaborative is working with the New York State Department of Transportation to adjust mowing schedules to allow weeds and flowering plants to blossom in order to improve pollinator access, according to Manos-Jones.

“When they mow the milkweed, tens of thousands of monarch caterpillars disappear,” she said.

In 2016, Manos-Jones said she successfully petitioned the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to stop using glyphosate, a broad-spectrum weed killer originally marketed under the brand name Roundup.

“Roundup and a perfectly green lawn is a dead place,” she said.

Establishing a pollinator pathway through the Catskills is part of a larger national effort to promote and protect pollinator habitats, Manos-Jones said.

An Obama-era initiative established a “Monarch Highway” along Interstate 35, which stretches more than 1,500 miles from the southern shore of Lake Superior to the northern banks of the Rio Grande, to parallel the annual migratory path of the monarch butterfly. The Federal Highway Administration partnered with the six state departments of transportation that manage I-35 — Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota — to support pollinator habitats.

Citing a quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, Manos-Jones said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

“Without our pollinators, people are going to get very cranky when they don’t have coffee, chocolate, almonds or oranges,” she said, offering her own interpretation. “What happens to the bees happens to us.”

Businesses and organizations interested in obtaining seed packets should contact Carol O’Beirne at the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce at 845-586-3300 or carol@centralcatskills.com

Individuals are not eligible to receive seed packets, Galusha said, “but we would hope they want to plant things themselves anyway.”

“When it comes to protecting pollinators, we all have to participate — just like we all have to participate in our democracy — so we don’t lose it,” Manos-Jones said.

For more information about monarch preservation and pollinator-friendly plants, visit Manos-Jones’ website, spiritofbutterflies.com

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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