Montford Community Center Visits SRS Pollinator Garden

pollinator garden
Bryan Tompkins (USFWS) shows children how to identify bumblebees. Photo by Mim Ra Aslaoui, USFS volunteer.

On July 21st, the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station hosted 36 children between the ages of 5 and 11. The children attend summer camp at the Montford Community Center in Asheville, NC.

It was already hot at 10 a.m. when the kids hopped off the bus. Jason Anderson gave a short safety talk and welcome message as community center staff divided the children into four groups.

Over the next two hours, the children participated in several fun and educational activities.

Most of the activities took place in or near the SRS pollinator garden, which is part of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative. The garden is maintained by Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners, who helped establish the garden in 2010.

With Kathy Ricker’s help, each group of kids headed off to an activity station. One of the stations was a picnic table near the garden, where Patty Matteson read the Forest Service children’s book, Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down? The book celebrates trees’ ecological role, as well as their significance to humans. It also explains why trees must sometimes be cut down, and offer tips for planting new trees.

Plant identification
The plant ID station featured lots of smiling faces, plus forest plants. Photo by Mim Ra Aslaoui, USFS volunteer.

On a balcony near the garden, Kiley Coates, an SRS summer intern, helped another group of children fill out activity sheets. The kids also colored Bee a Scientist books. The Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, along with the Forest Service, produces the coloring books.

Just around the corner, another group of children walked through the pollinator garden with Bryan Tompkins. Tompkins, a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, led a Bee ID Walk.

Carpenter bees were abundant, and the children learned how to look at the bees’ abdomens to tell them apart from bumblebees. Bumblebee abdomens are covered in yellow or brown bristles, while carpenter bee abdomens are smooth and shiny.

At the other side of the pollinator garden, Sarah Farmer was helping a group identify plants. The activity began with Virginia creeper, which is sometimes confused with poison ivy. After examining Virginia creeper and counting its leaves, the group walked over to a small poison ivy vine and compared the two species.

The children enjoyed the garden and spent time admiring flowers, as well as the visiting pollinators. Mountain mint, cup plant, ironweed, rattlesnake master, phlox, and other natives were in bloom.

Smokey Bear with kids
Smokey Bear stopped by for a visit. Photo by Mim Ra Aslaoui, USFS volunteer.

After all four groups had a chance to visit each station, the children converged in a conference room. A surprise guest joined them – Smokey the Bear. After a brief wildfire prevention message, the children watched a documentary about native bees.

The children went home with science notebooks, scientist cards, books, and other materials. Some materials were generously donated by the People’s Garden Initiative.

Hopefully, the children took other things home with them too – such as new insights into the natural world, and greater appreciation for the many links between pollinators, plants, and people.

For more information, contact Sarah Farmer at

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