Wings in the Park celebrates pollinators

To envision summertime in Happy Valley is to envision an environment teeming with plant life, trees budding on street corners and flowers blooming in the arboretum. This image, although often considered the very essence of summer, fails to deliver the deserved recognition to those who truly deserve it: pollinators.

This recognition is exactly what the Wings in the Park pollinator event on July 18 aims to revive.

Wings in the Park was created in 2009 by the Penn State Master Gardeners in response to a severe decline in available pollinator habitat.

“The situation is having a direct impact on our food supply and a host of other environmental issues that directly impact the health of the planet. We needed a way to educate the public, not just about the problem, but how they can contribute to the solution by creating pollinator habitat in their own backyards,” said Doug Ford, a master gardener involved in the project.

After seven years, and with the help of more than 50 master gardeners and volunteers, Wings in the Park has blossomed into a thriving community event.

This year’s event kicks off with a “Pollinator Parade,” where attendees are welcome to dress as their favorite pollinator. Following the parade are a number of pollinator-inspired activities including a scavenger hunt and obstacle course. Local organizations such as Penn State Center for Pollinator Research, Frost Entomological Museum, Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, Discovery Space Museum, Millbrook Marsh, Centre County Beekeepers Association and Clearwater Conservancy will provide hands-on activities for children and informative demonstrations for adults.

New to Wings in the Park this year, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center will host raptor shows at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“Our mission is to connect people to the natural world by giving audiences a sense of how the interrelationships in nature work,” said Jon Kauffman, the assistant raptor center director at Shaver’s Creek. “This year with adding raptors, we want folks to walk away understanding that these pollinators are great for the sense of pollinating native flowers, but they also hold an importance of providing valuable high-protein food for nesting and migrating birds.”

It’s also the second year of the Save the Monarch Campaign, part of the partnership with Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas-based program that focuses on the protection of the monarch butterfly. In commemoration, Wings in the Park attendees will go home with butterfly milkweed plants.

“Since the milkweed plant is the only plant that monarchs will lay their eggs on and that the caterpillars will eat, it is critical that we encourage people to plant native milkweed available in Pennsylvania,” Ford said. “Native milkweed also supports an abundance and diversity of pollinators.”

Pam Ford, who co-founded Wings in the Park with “Butterfly Bob” Snetsinger, said that what she enjoys most about the event is the response from the community.

“Wings in the Park is the community coming together to celebrate life,” she said. “It not only represents the diversity of winged creatures in the habitat, but it represents the role we each need to play as stewards of the environment.”