Hundreds gather for pollinators
OKOBOJI — Clear skies, golden afternoon sunlight, the beginnings of a fall breeze and the flutter of orange butterfly wings made for another successful Bee and Butterfly Festival at the Dickinson County Nature Center Friday. Staff estimated the nature center's annual celebration attracted 800 people before 7 p.m. that night. Families could be seen roaming the grounds, making crafts, having their faces painted or enjoying any of the festival activities.
The event's staple attraction is the tagging and releasing of monarch butterflies. A small, round tag is applied to the wing of the pollinators, which are then released. The monarchs sometimes follow a specieswide migration south to Mexico. The tags allow researchers to better understand the migration pattern, and visitors to the local festival can see how far the butterfly they once held gingerly in their hand traveled. Dickinson County Conservation Board Community Relations Coordinator Kiley Roth said about 280 monarchs were released Friday.
The completion of the nature center's Pollinator Paradise addition allowed for two tagging and release stations during this year's festival. The physical structure of the addition is the first phase of the $1.2 million project, according to Dickinson County Conservation Board Executive Director Lee Sorenson. He said between $275,000 and $300,000 have yet to be raised for the overall project. Some exhibits and displays have already been installed in the educational wing. Youngsters were swarming the life-size honeycomb play area Friday to experience hive life from a bee's perspective. Future installations include, education puzzles, games, a food truck and an interactive touchscreen, which can help design pollinator-friendly gardens as well as show the garden's impact on pollinators during each season. Sorenson previously said the completed exhibit will help the public understand the important role pollinators play in the global food chain and how to stem their population decline. If all goes well, he expects the project to be complete by late 2019.
Outside, ventriloquist Lisa Laird of Orange City shared some of the facts about pollinators in an accessible way. She and her Pockets Full of Fun puppets, Beebo the bee, Herald the bear, Shiloh the rabbit and Jemima the dinosaur, explained pollinators' link to various foods, how pollinators behave and how butterflies undergo metamorphosis. Roth said Laird performed at the annual festival approximately four years ago and was quite popular with the audience.
"She really does tailor her show to our audience — age as well as theme," Roth said.
As the afternoon sun began to sink behind the nearby hills, audience members headed to the nature center's lower level to see Milford Mayor, County Conservation Board Member and bee-keeping enthusiast Steve Anderson extract honey from a hive. Anderson said the early fall is harvest time for the bee keepers. He explained the bottom two tiers of every hive are the bees' territory, and the additional tiers, which the keepers harvest are surplus stores. The bees seal each segment of the honeycomb with wax to keep out moisture, so keepers like Anderson cut away the wax with a heated capping knife before the comb is put into a centrifuge to extract the honey. That's not to say the wax itself isn't of some use. Anderson got some audible reactions from the audience after saying he chews the wax like bubble gum — in fact, he couldn't resist sneaking a pinch from the scrapping of the capping knife.
"The wax is awesome," he said.