The buzz around Patoka Lake is that pollinators are an important part of nature

USACE - Louisville District
Published June 20, 2022
Updated: June 20, 2022

This week is National Pollinator Week, June 20-26, and those interested in learning about pollinators and how they fit into the ecosystem can visit Patoka Lake in Dubois, Ind., to see some local pollinators in action. 
Patoka Lake is home to two hives of honeybees – each containing 20,000 to 60,000 of the flying little pollinators. 
The hives at Patoka are still fairly new to the area, but Jim Merkley, park ranger and beekeeper at Patoka Lake, said that so far they have added a new and interesting element to the ecosystem.
“We got our bees in 2020 after a ranger at another lake retired and they didn’t have anyone else who could take care of them. We had already had a good pollinator plan in place at that time for wildflowers and we were already really excited about doing that kind of stuff so getting bees was a good fit for us,” he said. “I took them over in the fall of 2020 right after I came here - I was brand new to bees and had never done anything with them before. It’s been a really fascinating experience.”
Merkley said he has taken a personal interest in being the caretaker for the pollinators from day one.
“We had a book here in the office that I read, I got online and started watching YouTube videos, and I got ahold of a beekeeper who is a neighbor of us here and she showed me about bees – I sort of took what she showed me and ran from there,” he shared.  “I actually also got some at home because I was so fascinated by them. I got some for me, and my brother and sister-in-law are into it and I talked some of our really good friends into getting a beehive too so, between all of us, we learn together with our bees.”
Besides possibly being a little scary to those who are afraid of them, the bees serve an important role in nature.
“Bees in our ecosystem are very important. I’m not well-versed on it, but I do know that a lot of the food we get at the store relies on pollinators – not just honeybees but pollinators in general,” he said.
Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees are pollinators. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot.
Merkley said care goes into maintaining the area to encourage a healthy crop of pollen-producing fauna for all of the pollinators in the area. 
“One of the things that we do here to help our pollinators is we burn areas once a year, usually in the late winter. It helps the pollinator plants regenerate – the ground really likes to have that area open for the seeds because it helps them out a lot,” he explained.
Many people are afraid of being stung by bees, but Merkley recommends letting them be and allowing them to go about their business if possible. 
“Just remember that they’re pollinators. I know people are scared of them - I don’t like getting stung either - but they do help our society by helping our ecosystem,” he said.
Besides being the hives’ caretaker, Merkley has also been able to share his knowledge and his flying friends to educate others about them.
“We have a “live hive” where I can take part of the beehive into schools and show the kids a lot of the brood and stuff like that. It helps them to get hands-on without actually touching bees and can help them get past their fears,” he shared. “I have also talked to people or groups who are wanting to get into beekeeping because while I’ll say I’m not an expert, I do have the insight of a first-year beekeeper and can share what it’s taken me to get through the first year.”
National Pollinator Week is an annual event celebrated internationally in support of pollinator health. It's a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what can be done to protect them. According to the Pollinator Partnership, it was established 14 years ago when the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week” - marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration, promoting the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, moths, wasps, and flies.
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