Two people in bee costumes hold a large Bee City banner walking down a street in a parade.

Affiliate Spotlight: Prairies and Parades in Council Bluffs, IA

Authors: Theresa DeWitt, Youth Assistant, Council Bluffs Public Library; and Ashley Kruse, Communications & Events Manager, City of Council Bluffs
Bee City: Council Bluffs, Iowa
USDA Plant Zone: 5b
Fun fact: Council Bluffs is located on the Missouri River and we are on the flyway for both bird and monarch butterfly migrations, giving everything we do in our environment extra significance.
Lessons learned: In our first year as a Bee City affiliate, we have learned A LOT, but as a committee, we agreed that the greatest lesson we have learned is that having a team of diverse viewpoints and experiences is essential. There is no way we could be as robust or effective in what we do if we had a group of people who all had the same viewpoint. With members from diverse backgrounds, we have multiple toolkits of experience and skill to pull from, and a varied and diverse selection of perspectives and ideas with which to work.

Our story

Our Bee City story begins in 2022 at the Council Bluffs Public Library. That year, the Library introduced a One Community Reads program, which aims to raise awareness of a community or regional challenge through book selections that support community discussion, awareness, and action. The theme was Your Own Backyard with book selections and programs focused on pollinators. Through this program, we discovered that over the last two years, the City had created a habitat corridor that included native plant at City Hall, Twin City Park, Council Bluffs Public Library, Union Pacific Museum, Bayliss Park, and along the First Avenue trail. So, the City and the Library decided to team up and make our commitment to native pollinators and plants “official” by becoming a Bee City affiliate.

As a first-year Bee City, we are just beginning to learn about all the things we can do to support and protect our native pollinators. However, what we have accomplished in a year is really exciting! Here’s our 2022 year in review.

May: We announced bee-coming a Bee City USA with a seed toss at Vincent Bluff State Preserve, a rare remnant prairie in the heart of Council Bluffs (photo 1).

Over dozen people in warm clothes smile with one hand raised,, standing in a grassy area.
Photo 1: Seed Toss. Credit: Ashley Kruse/City of Council Bluffs

July/August: The committee doesn’t meet as these are extra busy months for the committee members. Organizations represented on the committee are Council Bluffs Parks & Recreation (including the horticulture and greenhouse managers), Pottawattamie County Conservation, the 712 Initiative, the Council Bluffs Public Library, Council Bluffs Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Chamber of Commerce.  

September: The Library planted micro prairies to support the Bee City effort and expand educational programming opportunities for patrons (photo 2).

Photo 2: Library Micro Prairies. Credit: Theresa DeWitt/Council Bluffs Public Library

October: The Parks and Recreation department hired herds of goats in May and October to clear brush and noxious weeds at Big Lake Park, eliminating the need for spraying poisonous herbicides and mowing, thus reducing the use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions (photo 3).

A herd of black, brown and white goats graze around shrubs and trees.
Photo 3: Goats at Big Lake. Credit: Ashley Kruse/City of Council Bluffs

November/December: Working with Advance Southwest Iowa Corporation, a county economic development organization, we connected with a local garden center and began working with them to start growing and selling native plants.

January: Bee a Good Neighbor. This campaign promotes being a good neighbor in your community by mowing, but also being a good neighbor to the pollinator community with easy things people can do in their yards each season. The campaign really highlighted the importance of a diverse committee. A Library representative is a member of Good Neighbor Iowa and suggested the play on words. The Parks and Rec Director and the county conservation representative created the list of suggestions. The City’s Communications and Event manager created the postcard and shared it on social media. The Library handed out postcards (photo 4).

A white and teal postcard with bullet points for activities to help pollinators in all four seasons.
Photo 4: Bee a Good Neighbor Postcard. Credit: Ashley Kruse/City of Council Bluffs

February: The unofficial Integrated Pest Management plan is made official by getting put into writing and posted on the Horticulture and Grounds webpage.

March: The Library hosted Pollinator Palooza, their annual celebration of native plants and pollinators. They had nine partnering community organizations who brought activities such as making seed balls, native plant root system demonstration, and building a pollinator pizza. With over 700 people attending, it is clear our community cares about pollinators! Two committee members hosted a table and talked about the Bee a Good Neighbor initiative and answered questions (photos 5 & 6).

A family poses for a photo holding props (butterflies, watering can, sun, etc), in front of a Bee City-themed backdrop.
Photo 5: Pollinator Palooza photo op. Credit: Lindsay McGinnis Hurt/Council Bluffs Public Library
Two people sit behind a table. One of them is in a bee costume and gestures to a large "Proud to be a Bee City" banner.
Photo 6: Bee City table @ Pollinator Palooza. Credit: Theresa DeWitt/Council Bluffs Public Library

April: Gardening for Diversity classes were provided for free at the Library and were taught by a Naturalist with Pottawattamie Conservation (and Bee City committee member). 50 people attended.

May: The Bee City Bees walked in the Celebrate CB parade (photo 7).

Two people in bee costumes hold a large Bee City banner walking down a street in a parade.
Photo 7: Bee City at the Celebrate CB Parade. Credit: Chris Ruhaak

The Native Shade Garden at Bayliss Park was planted. This garden shows how native plants can be incorporated into traditional landscaping (photo 8).

Blue habitat sign with Bee City logo reading "Bayliss Park Native Pollinator Garden" with plants and 4 people working in the background.
Photo 8: Demonstration Shade Garden. Credit: Theresa DeWitt/Council Bluffs Public Library

Bee City hosted a table at SummerFest with DIY bee headbands (photo 9).

A kid with blonde hair smiles, wearing black spiral pipe cleaner antennae.
Photo 9: Bee headbands @ SummerFest. Credit: Theresa DeWitt/Council Bluffs Public Library
Looking ahead

We are working to creating an annual award for a school in Council Bluffs who creates and/or enhances pollinator habitat. The recognized school will be presented with a Bee City sign, a swag bag, and a certificate from the Mayor. We also have plans to create a similar program for Chamber businesses.

Speaking engagements are scheduled with various garden groups and civic clubs to encourage individuals to make changes in their own yards.

In addition to continuing to incorporate native plants in City plantings, the Parks and Recreation Department is planning a pair of large-scale pollinator habitats: At Big Lake Park, six acres of turfgrass will become a floodplain prairie. At River’s Edge Shoreline, a total of ten acres of shoreline prairie along the Missouri River in two phases: an area of invasive shrubs and weeds will be transformed into a five-acre shoreline prairie, with a further five acres of prairie planned on adjacent land.

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