- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2020

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - The sound tells the story.

Just a few feet away from the pollinator habitat, the only noise comes from vehicles passing by Sam Peden Community Park on Grant Line Road.

Step a foot inside the habitat, and the audible buzz of bees, butterflies and other insects is clearly distinguishable.

“We don’t have enough of them. One out of every three bites of food comes from pollinators,” said Jack Sandford, a sophomore at Floyd Central High School and a Life Scout with Scouts BSA Troop 4020 in Georgetown.

Sandford - with the help of friends, family and numerous government officials and agencies - constructed the pollinator habitat on about two acres of property at Community Park. It’s his Eagle Scout project and Sandford also intends to submit his habitat effort for a prestigious William T. Hornaday award.

The idea behind the project is simple - return a portion of land to its native condition to help the pollinator population. Those pollinators, which are most often honey bees, are responsible not only for the bulk of the food we eat, but they also increase the nation’s crop values by more than $15 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But preparing the habitat required not just physical work. Sandford and his father, Chris, had to seek partnerships and cooperation with multiple entities.

One of the most rewarding parts of the effort has been realizing how many people are willing to help, they said.

Jack Sandford has been working on the project for about two years. He started with a conversation with Gina Anderson, Purdue University Extension Educator for Floyd County. Sanford said they developed a rough draft of a plan, and then she put him in contact with Don Lopp, Floyd County’s director of operations.

To purchase the seeds and plugs, funding would be needed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Natural Resources not only offered expertise, but also cost-sharing for Sandford’s project. The Caesar’s Foundation of Floyd County also provided a grant for the work.

Chris Sandford said Lopp and Anderson went above and beyond to help his son with everything from putting him in contact with the right people to coming up with a spot where the habitat could be placed.

In 2019, with Floyd County celebrating its bicentennial, the idea of a pollinator habitat being installed at Community Park matched the county’s idea of reserving space there for a future arts display.

Lopp said the beauty of the habitat - which already has some Black-eyed Susans growing and will have hundreds of more wildflowers planted inside of it - will match well with the art installations in the future.

“He’s been fantastic to work with,” Lopp said of Sandford. “When he brought it to us we thought that would be a nice addition to the front of that park.”

Jack and his father, with the help of some friends and volunteers, had to spend several hours preparing the site through two chemical kills of existing grass and spreading native grass seed by hand. They followed the guidelines and recommendations of the experts in preparing the site.

Jack Sandford didn’t just come up with the idea, organize the installation of the habitat and help with planting seeds. He also constructed two benches that have been placed near the site so that people can sit and enjoy the scenery, and he wrote the descriptions about the pollinator habitat that appears on a sign near the front of the park.

“It’s a benefit to the county because they don’t have to mow it, and it’s a beautification because the wildflowers are pretty,” Chris Sandford said.

“And of course there’s the lack of pollinators in our country, which is a crisis.”

Jack Sandford is leading a project that will aid the community by helping the pollinators that are critical to survival, but he’s also learning along the way.

“It’s taught me a lot just about how much bees and butterflies matter and pollinators in general,” he said. “It’s also taught me how much planning goes into making something like this, because a lot of things can happen.”

Noticing the difference the habitat has already made has also been a worthwhile experience. Jack Sandford said they had to observe the site as part of the project before building the habitat. On that occasion, they only noticed one butterfly.

“Now you can sit here for five seconds and see five of them,” he said.

His father was also a Boy Scout and knows the importance of an Eagle Scout project. He said he’s proud of his son, and he believes it’s an endeavor that will help shape him.

“He’ll never forget this for the rest of his life,” he said.

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