An aerial photo of strips of blue solar panels with bright green plants surrounding them in the left foreground. Gray roads run on the left and up into the background. A large tan and white group of tan and white buildings are in the upper right.

Affiliate Spotlight: Solar Arrays and Pollinator Meadows at James Madison University

Author: Alison (Ali) Sloop, Stormwater Compliance Specialist
Bee Campus Affiliate: James Madison University in Virginia. Affiliate since 2019
USDA Plant Zone: 6b
Our Top 5 Virginia Native Pollinator Plants:

  1. Rough-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)
  2. Wild bergamot (Monarda fistula)
  3. Smooth serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)
  4. Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
  5. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Eight college students stand and crouch looking down toward light pink flowers. One holds an aerial net, another a notebook, another a camera.
Students collecting pollinator observations in the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum on campus. Photo Credit: University Marketing and Branding
Beeing the Change: Equal Parts Intellect and Action for JMU’s Campus Pollinators

The first president at James Madison University, Julian Burruss wrote the below statement in the school’s first catalogue in the early 1900s, “… it is obvious that the work of the school can no longer be confined to theory and books, but must seek its material in real things, in nature, in the practical activities of industry and commerce, in the business, civic and social interests of life. Without depreciating the limitless stores of useful knowledge bound up in printed volumes, it must also draw from the outside world …”. This statement still holds true about JMU today, as the university has established the phrase “Being the Change” as one of four strategic priorities. As the Bee Campus Committee gathers information each year from campus departments, committee members and local partners to include in the annual report, it is easy to see how the student, staff and faculty at JMU continue to embody “Being the Change” using both intellect and action to create a positive impact on native bees, butterflies and other pollinators that call campus their home.

Three people hold phones and a camera aimed towards the same direction, surrounded by tall flowers and shrubby plants with a tan and white building in the background.
Geography Club students with Dr. Amy Goodall capturing pollinator and native plant observations while participating in the annual BioBlitz event. Photo credit: JMU Stormwater – Dale Chestnut

Every year, JMU faculty Amy Goodall, Ph.D. has had her class of Advanced Biogeography students participate in a week-long BioBlitz on campus to document pollinators. This year, Goodall and her students partnered with the City of Harrisonburg in a coordinated effort to log as many sightings of pollinators and native plants as they could in a month-long, Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz, event throughout the city. The pollinator habitat on campus (which lies within the heart of the City) and the students logging observations within that habitat were instrumental in the effort. The BioBlitz recorded over 2,500 observations, 490 species in the iNaturalist app and over 500 observers. The effort won the city $1,000 to go towards their pollinator programs. A monetary prize was given to the BioBlitz events across the nation that logged the top three highest numbers of observations. The National Recreation and Park Association created this campaign. This is one example of how students took what they learned in class and sprang into action. It resulted in numerous benefits to both the campus and the City, one being the economic award that will be utilized to increase pollinator habitat and continue to promote the conservation of pollinators to the local community.

An aerial photo of a university campus with buildings and green spaces, overlaid by large pink translucent patches, with numerous yellow dots. There is an overlaid teal squiggly line that looks like a waterway runs from the top left to the bottom right.
Map of on campus iNaturalist observations from Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz with the City of Harrisonburg throughout the month of September 2022. Over 1,000 pollinator and native plant observations were made by students, contributing to almost half of the BioBlitz event’s total observations of just over 2,500. Photo credit: JMU GIS Aerial Imagery
In the foreground yellow and brown daisy-like black-eyed Susans bloom, golden grasses look like mist on the left. On the right is a large solar panel. In the background are green/brown trees.
Native pollinator meadow with flowering black-eyed Susan and native warm season grasses between solar arrays on campus. Photo credit: JMU Stormwater – Ali Sloop

The creation of pollinator habitat on campus continues to expand opportunities for engaged student learning. New pollinator habitat is in the process of being developed on campus where a small solar array was updated and expanded. Staff in Facilities Management received a grant for the project from the Department of Energy. With the grant, instead of returning the groundcover back to turf grass, the areas between the solar panels were planted with a native pollinator mix to create an additional 11,326 square feet of native meadow. The native plants were selected for their value to pollinators as protective cover, an important food source, and as nesting habitat. Facilities Management staff had to also consider native plants that were shorter in height to prevent shading out the solar panels and decreasing their efficiency, and making sure the native plants selected were shade tolerant as they would be growing in a 10-foot-wide aisle between the solar arrays.  This year, JMU staff will plant another 6,000 square feet of pollinator meadow in the open space available inside of the solar facility.

An aerial photo of strips of blue solar panels with bright green plants surrounding them in the left foreground. Gray roads run on the left and up into the background. A large tan and white group of tan and white buildings are in the upper right.
JMU’s new solar array facility in construction surrounded by an existing native meadow. Pollinator habitat was installed in the aisles between solar panel rows in June 2022 and more native pollinator habitat will be planted in 2023. King Hall looking over the native meadow hillside and solar facility is home to the School of Integrated Sciences. Photo credit: JMU GIS Aerial Imagery, Sam Hottinger

As part of this solar project, the Bee Campus Committee is in the process of developing a Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) as part of an effort to certify JMU’s solar facility as a Virginia Pollinator Smart Solar Site. The Virginia Pollinator-Smart Program was developed by two Virginia state agencies (Department of Conservation and Recreation and Department of Environmental Quality) to encourage pollinator friendly solar energy developments throughout the Commonwealth. The VMP, is a requirement for the application. The plan is being developed with input from a local environmental consulting firm, Wild Ginger Field Services. Wild Ginger completed the initial field vegetation assessments and created permanent survey and photo stations that JMU faculty, staff and students will continue to use to monitor the diversity and health of the solar facility’s pollinator habitat each growing season. Once certified, the annual vegetation surveys will be submitted to the Pollinator-Smart program to maintain JMU’s certification. Another exciting part of this initiative, the Bee Campus Committee is currently working on updating and adding educational signage around the facility and installing native bee houses and bird houses to further provide opportunities for students to apply the knowledge they learn in pollinator related coursework.

JMU’s Bee Campus program takes pride in knowing that students are gaining pollinator knowledge and are being equipped to advocate for pollinators on and off campus. Even after students graduate, the knowledge and engaged learning experiences they have had at JMU will transfer on to their work places and homes with simple tools like knowing how to: identify native plants and pollinators, create pollinator habitat, build native bee houses and advocate for pollinators in their local communities.

A large, fuzzy yellow bumble bee with dark wings extended, in front of a cluster of purple/blue pea-flower-shaped blooms. The background is a pretty green color.
A close up of a yellow bumble bee pollinating a blue wild indigo native plant observed in pollinator habitat on campus. Photo credit: Dr. Amy Goodall, Geography Professor

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