What’s “growing on” at McAlpine Locks and Dam?

Published April 14, 2016

Plans are in place to improve and provide habitat for bees, butterflies and other pollinators on nearly 12 acres of land within the Falls of the Ohio Wildlife Conservation Area and McAlpine Locks and Dam on the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky. Lockmaster Dewey Takacy and project personnel are growing pollinator plants from seed in the Resident Engineer Office building located at the viewing and interpretive area. Plants include purple coneflower, gray-headed coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, swamp milkweed, common milkweed, butterfly weed, rattlesnake master, Maximilian sunflower and New England Aster.

Pollinator declines over the past several years have become a worldwide concern. In May 2015, the White House announced the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators. This strategy outlines a comprehensive approach to tackling and reducing the impact of multiple stressors on pollinator health, including pests and pathogens, reduced habitat, lack of nutritional resources and exposure to pesticides. Overarching goals of the strategy include reducing honey bee colony losses, increasing the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly and restoring or enhancing seven million acres of land for pollinators.

The initial 600 potted plants being grown at McAlpine will be planted among existing grasses directly below the viewing and interpretive area, adding habitat benefit to the sloped 1.5 acre area that is next to the new 1200-foot lock chamber. Planting will take place May 14, 2016, through a combination of volunteer groups, individuals and project staffs from McAlpine, Taylorsville Lake and other projects. USACE team members are encouraged to bring their families out to participate in the planting activities.

The Pollinator Planting Day event will take place with other participants providing information on honey bees, butterflies, water safety, locking and other topics. Local businesses will provide a BBQ lunch for all participants.

Management support within operations division for creating and improving pollinator habitat is strong. Along with benefits to the pollinators, other benefits will result from these actions, pointed out Locks and Dams Operations Manager Waylon Humphrey. 

“While the pollinator project at McAlpine is going to provide an excellent habitat for many species, the priority benefit for the navigation mission is rooted in reallocating Operations and Maintenance funding,” said Humphrey. “In years past, the steep hillside adjacent to the visitor overlook was only maintained through labor intensive weed eating or through renting brush clearing equipment. By converting this area to pollinator habitat we will reduce the dependency on O&M dollars to keep the area maintained which allows that money to be spent on maintenance that can increase the life cycle of our navigation equipment.”

At the project level, Takacy has taken the lead in ensuring that plants are watered weekly and that the growing facility is monitored for temperature and humidity for optimal growth. Takacy also checks the grow lights and makes sure the oscillating fan is operating twice a day. The fan provides a “breeze” for the growing plants so that their stems gain strength rather than being flimsy and flopping over once planted outside.

Takacy is excited to take this project on, “Upon coming to McAlpine Locks and Dam, I saw the opportunity to enhance our Environmental Stewardship program by creating pollinator habitat,” he said. “Not only will this activity improve habitat, but I anticipate it will reduce labor and mowing costs, will reduce CO2 emissions and fuel use, and will provide an opportunity to get the local community involved. I hope to see Scouts and school groups utilizing the pollinator habitat as an outdoor learning laboratory. Working with Lisa Freeman, Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area manager, and district staff has helped me to learn how to develop partnerships that can be utilized in the future for additional enhancements.”

Not only will this pollinator habitat enhancement be good for the Corps, it will also be good for the community and especially good for the bees, butterflies and other pollinators.