An overhead view of people standing around a green milkweed plant, with a monarch caterpillar on a leaf.

Affiliate Spotlight: Growing a Pollinator Conservation Community in Westminster, CO

Author: Susana Prieto Bravo, Bilingual Naturalist 
Bee City Affiliate Name: City of Westminster, CO
USDA Plant Zone: 6a 

My top 5 native pollinator plants:

  1. Sulphur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum): Must have for pollinator gardens. Nectar for several adult butterflies and caterpillar host plant for several blue butterflies. Particular value to native bees. 
  2. Sage (Salvia spp.): Different cultivars attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Silver sage and Mojave sage have special value for native bees.
  3. Penstemon (Penstemon spp.): Attracts native bees (particularly bumble bees), honey bees, and hummingbirds.
  4. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium): Cover, nesting material. The fuzzy seeds are of value to small birds in winter. Caterpillar host plant for several species of butterflies.
  5. Leadplant (Amorpha canescens): Caterpillar host plant for many butterflies, including sulfurs, silvery blue, gray hairstreak, painted lady, field crescent, common checkered skipper, and silver-spotted skipper. 

Lessons learned:
While searching around for information for the Bee City USA annual renewal report, I stumbled upon amazing people doing great work to protect bees and other pollinators. However, one thing I noticed is they didn’t know much about each other’s areas of expertise and projects. Environmental protection, outreach, and education are tasks that need a village. Sharing the challenges, struggles, and, of course, the victories with others in the same path is the best way of learning and keeping up the good work.  

A garden with trees in the background and shrubs in the foreground.
Pollinator Garden at Standley Lake Regional Park. Credit: Anne Gundrum
How a city how a city made everyone fall in love with pollinators

Since working in environmental education—for five years in Columbia, and now here in Colorado—pollination has always been a core topic. Wherever it is taught, the journey is riddled with challenges. Plant reproduction is a beautiful but complicated process, even for us biologists. So, how do we teach it to children?

Last summer, I embarked on the adventure of working in another country and spent a few months as a Bilingual Naturalist at Standley Lake Regional Park, in Westminster. The first program I hosted on my own was “Pollinator Crafts with A Naturalist.” Nervously—I don’t consider myself crafty at all—I arrived at the library armed with a box full of materials, telling myself: “You can do this! Explaining pollination (in your second language) can’t be that hard!” Chatting with the participants as we were making woolen bees and rainbow butterflies, I asked why is it important to protect bees? Without a second thought, the children all answered: “They are pollinators, they help plants reproduce!”

Two kids outdoors crouch down with paper bags.
Attendees to the Junior Ranger academy playing a relay game where they were bees collecting nectar and pollen. Credit: Standley Lake Regional Park


Kids making bee bookmarks during pollinator week. Credit: Standley Lake Regional Park

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that even the youngest used the word pollination! I then remembered this program was just one among many, as parks and libraries across the city coming together to celebrate Pollinator Week every June. 

3 kids in gardening gloves plant a plant in the soil.
Camp Kind volunteers planting new plants on Standley Lake’s pollinator garden. Credit:
Standley Lake Regional Park

Later on, I set out to renew Westminster’s Bee City US affiliation. This involved collecting information by going over archives and all bee-related events held by the city in 2022. During Pollinator Week that year, Standley Lake Regional Park held events every day! Crafts, night hikes to find nocturnal pollinators, visits to the pollinator garden with a park naturalist, and a self-guided walk to discover local pollinators. At the same time, the Butterfly Pavilion celebrated a Pollinator Festival with in-house tours, special activities, and a pollinator plant sale. A Facebook event was also announced during the week, inviting people to share pictures of pollinators they spotted in their neighborhoods; everybody knew exactly what to look for. 

An overhead view of people standing around a green milkweed plant, with a monarch caterpillar on a leaf.
Milkweed seed collection with Latino Outdoors. Credit: Butterfly Pavilion
A blue interpretive sign with information about different bee species.
Interpretive sign at Standley Lake next to the apiary and the native bee hotel. Credit: Standley Lake Regional Park

As I continued collecting information, I stumbled upon a very special person. “You should talk to Paul Sibley,” someone suggested. I shamelessly gave him a surprise visit at his workplace in Walnut Creek golf course, where he is the course superintendent, responsible for caring for the land. I must admit that, as a biologist with a passion for sustainability, golf courses are not among my favorite places; and yet, I was humbled in the presence of Paul. Not only do they care for two colonies of bees just meters away from a golf hole but have also set up a creek protection area for birds and other native animals. 

Paul SIbley,
Golf Course Superintendent, showing one of the beehives in Walnut Creek Golf Preserve. Credit: Walnut Creek Golf Preserve, City of Westminster

Walking to check out the beehive, I noticed that the golf course didn’t look like what I had imagined. Wild vegetation was growing on the side of the road and in patches all over the place. I learned that Walnut Creek, managed by the city’s parks & recreation department, is a golf preserve, meaning that it combines conservation with golf. It is home to over 75 species of birds, mammals, and other wildlife, as well as an astounding variety of native plants. The passion with which Paul talks about each and every one of its achievements is contagious. I cheekily asked what players thought: golfers can be very demanding when it comes to field conditions. “As long as they can see the next hole, they are fine with it,” Paul replied. “We are educating people about the importance of conserving habitat for pollinators and other native wildlife,” he added. This year, the preserve started working with Standley Lake Nature Center to offer nature walks on their golf course to reach out and educate more people. 

I also reached out to Chris Borchers, the greenhouse crew leader. Brimming with pride, she told me that, in addition to having two beehives on the greenhouse property, in 2022 they added 7,000 square feet of new pollinator habitat! This involved turning unhealthy areas with water-loving annuals into native drought-tolerant perennial patches that bloom continuously throughout the season, benefiting pollinators. 

Tidy-looking shrubs and plants, many of which are blooming, in front of a building.
City Park Recreation Center roundabout. Credit: Chris Borchers
A dry, gravel-like landscape with small blooming plants and larger rocks.
New xeric pollinator gardens at the Public Safety Center. Credit: Chris Borchers

Curious to know more, I learned that Westminster is one of the few Front Range municipalities with a greenhouse, making Westminster’s horticulture program unique. The greenhouse crew produces more than 45,000 plants each year—flowers, as well as herb and vegetable seeds—that are used in the City’s landscaping projects and community gardens. In my comings and goings, I noticed that areas designed for the dry climate of Colorado not only make the city look beautiful, but provide food and shelter for the native fauna.

My time in Westminster has been short, but now I understand why boys and girls know exactly what pollination is: The community is doing an incredible job to bring pollinators into the daily life of its inhabitants.

A yellow striped honey bee on a pink milkweed flower.
Honey bee at Standley Lake. Credit: Susana Prieto

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