GRAFTON - Pere Marquette State Park installed a new pollinator garden with some help from local students.

On April 23, 2024, students from Jerseyville Elementary School joined Pere Marquette staff to plant native plants at the park’s Visitor Center. Lev Smolianski, natural resource coordinator, explained that this experience allowed students to help create a garden while learning more about native species and ecological diversity.

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“They’re coming out to help us install a new pollinator garden, and we are doing so to highlight native plants and ecological diversity of native plants,” Smolianski said. “We found that there would be no better opportunity for that than Earth Day, having students come out, getting dirty and putting their hands in the soil and planting some wonderful plants.”

Smolianski explained that a pollinator garden will attract more microfauna to the park, including different species of animals and insects. The garden will also provide examples of plants that are native to Illinois.

Unlike a lawn or a typical garden, a pollinator garden requires less maintenance. The goal is that the plants grow without much human interference.

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To describe the benefits of a pollinator garden, Smolianski encourages people to go outside at night and listen to the sounds in their front yard. He said you might hear some insects and animals, but this is very quiet compared to the way a pollinator garden sounds at night because there are so many creatures who benefit from the garden. He noted that the pollinator garden will provide a “prairie habitat” that many animals and insects need.

“A lot of the most endangered animals and insects and plants that are native to the state are endangered because of a lack of this type of prairie habitat that we’re attempting to install,” he added. “I think it’d be really cool if people come here in the summertime and they walk up to our front door and instead of seeing nice manicured lawn grass, they see the quote-unquote ‘mess’ of wonderful native plants. My goal is that it’ll be head-high and it’ll push people to think more about what a nice lawn looks like.”

Smolianski said that the park brought in 700 plants from the Madison State Nursery to contribute to the pollinator garden. This project has been almost six months in the making.

Smolianski noted that the Jerseyville students can come back to Pere Marquette as the garden grows and admire their work. Teaching students is one of his favorite parts of the job. He said there’s nothing more fun than "a day in the mud,” and he hopes the students enjoyed the experience while learning more about ecology and conservation.

“I think that diverse ecosystems breed diverse curiosities. So the more there is going on ecologically here and the more that I can aid in that, the more I’m able to breed different ways of thinking in my students,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe the next big John Muir or a similar character is somewhere in southern Illinois, just waiting to come visit us at our park.”

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