Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA Branch Director Matt McCann said he recently got an education in gardening when members of the Port Washington Saukville Rotary Club, Western Great Lakes Bat and Bird Observatory and Native Roots descended on the Y grounds recently.
They built a rain garden to catch runoff, cleaned out eight weed-filled community garden plots, adding organic soil, compost and more than 100 plants, and they also planted 600 shrubs, trees and bushes in front of the Y.
“I’m a lawn guy,” McCann explained. “But there’s a whole other side to things. All the sudden they were talking and I’m like, how do you know this is a native plant? How do you know this is what we should have here?
“It was a fun process to be part of.”
The process McCann was referring to is a recent overhaul of the YMCA grounds by the groups, with a little help from the Y and the Thomas Jefferson Middle School Design Build class, which built two nesting boxes, one for kestrels and the other for smaller birds .
The project was the brainchild of Bill Moren, a member of both the YMCA and the Rotary Club.
“It’s been a terrific project,” Moren said, especially with the amount of collaboration between groups. “We (Rotary) try to take on projects that have an impact on the community, and this just seemed right.”
The time was right, he added, because the YMCA was looking at ways to improve some of the habitats on its property to attract birds and pollinators, and the Y also wanted to incorporate youths in the project.
Rotary, Moren said, has a focus on the environment, and this project fit right into this — so much so that the local club was awarded a $3,000 grant to offset the $6,330 cost of the project.
Members also contributed 88 hours toward the project, which began last summer when Native Roots designed the project. In fall, volunteers removed plants from the weed-filled, overgrown community garden plots, and in spring they returned to once again clear the plots.
Then, from May 27 to June 4, they planted.
It wasn’t always an easy job, Moren said, noting they used a manual sod cutter for the rain garden and did much of the work by hand.
“We dug an awful lot of holes,” he said.
Not only did the plantings spruce up the grounds — McCann said that with the pandemic the Y didn’t have the staff to maintain the community garden — they also serve as model gardens, teaching Y members and the youngsters who attend summer camps and educational programs about how to protect the area water resources, how to create bird-friendly spaces, provide food for pollinators and learn about the environment in general.
“It’s awesome,” McCann said. “The goal is people can walk around our walking paths, see what’s happening here and take that information home and apply it to their own yards.”
“We want to let the members know how important these things are,” Moren said. “We also wanted to show them a way they can help in these efforts. It’s really raising awareness and providing models for the Y members, showing them how they can have an impact in their neighborhoods — this is important for quality of life.
“We believe this will have an impact on the youth at the Y, the members there and eventually it will trickle into the community.”
By creating hands-on opportunities for youngsters to work in the gardens and learn about pollinators, native plants and the natural world, Moren added, it is likely to have an impact for years to come.
“The youths can see and touch and start to see the value as they grow up,” he said.
The Western Great Lakes Bat and Bird Observatory is creating signs for the garden to describe what’s happening in them, Moren said, noting the organization views the project as an extension of its neighborhood habitat improvement project.
The Design Build class at the middle school built the birdhouses, and Moren noted the kestrel box will have a camera installed so people can see the activity inside.
McCann said he’s thrilled about the project, and especially the fact children will be able to take part.
“It’ll be a neat thing for the camp kids to watch through the summer,” he said. “And having the kids be able to look into (the kestrel box), I think they are just going to be thrilled to see it.”
The project has not only created a model that people can use to design their own native, pollinator gardens, it also helped create a bond between the organizations that participated in the effort, Moren said.
“We built a lot of camaraderie,” he said.
McCann said the Y is committed to maintaining and improving on the work going forward.
“We have more to do, but it was a nice start and now we have a guideline,” he said.
And that’s good news for Moren.
“Hopefully there will be a long and lasting impact at the Y and in the community,” he said.