This Seattle Woman Builds Pathways For Bees, Birds And Other Pollinators | KUOW News and Information

This Seattle Woman Builds Pathways For Bees, Birds And Other Pollinators

Jun 5, 2015

Sarah Bergmann was working at a New York ad agency when she heard about the decline in honeybee populations. The agency was working on a campaign to raise awareness of the honeybee, Bergmann says.

"The more I read, the more I realized the honeybee is actually a symptom," she says.

Moreover, Bergmann learned that honeybees aren't even native to the U.S. 

"A better response to the large-scale issue of honeybee decline is actually to begin to make ecological connections, and begin to support all the other pollinators," she says.

So she dreamed up the idea of the Pollinator Pathway, a plan to create pathways for the native pollinators to travel -- moths, butterflies and birds.

Sarah Bergmann, creator of Seattle's Pollinator Pathway.
Credit KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

Bergmann envisioned a large-scale, long-term project, something she could really sink her teeth into. She wanted to make urban gardens that would attract native pollinators.

So, more than seven years ago, Bergmann left New York and began work on her Pollinator Pathway project in Seattle.

The first pathway stretches a mile, from the well-tended gardens at Seattle University up Columbia Street to a private lot in the Madrona neighborhood that’s known as Nora’s Woods.

Bergmann started conversations with property owners along Columbia Street; she asked them if they’d be willing to tear up the grass in their parking strips and replant those small plots with plants that attract the native bees, moths, and birds that have historically pollinated plant life in this region.

She points out some of those plants: Sword fern, kinnick-kinnick, and snowberries nestle under large trees. On a recent late spring afternoon, at least four different species of bee swarmed among the blossoms.

Bergmann estimates she’s replanted about 30 percent of the land along this first pathway; she’s already at work on a second site in Seattle that moves north behind Broadway to Volunteer Park. And she’s fielding requests from other cities that want to create their own new urban ecosystems.

Bergmann envisions a world where designers and land owners will think of the natural ecology before they break ground for new buildings. But she’s quick to point out she’s not an environmental advocate.

Training as an artist, Bergmann sees the Pollinator Pathway as a systems design prototype. And as a companion to the actual gardens, she’s putting together a 2- by 3-foot book that is an artistic response to her long-term project.

Bergmann envisions it as a tribute of sorts to James Audubon, who famously set out to paint every bird species on the planet. But her larger goal is not only to finish the pathways she started; she wants them expanded and maintained in perpetuity.

“I really, in many ways, built this as a gift for my city,” she says. “It would be delightful to see it funded and cared for in the long term.”

While Bergmann has received some funding from public and private donors, those grants are not enough to cover the entire cost to complete the first Pollinator Pathway, let alone expand it.

Interested people can volunteer to maintain garden plots, or adopt segments of the Pathway as angel benefactors. Find out more at http://www.pollinatorpathway.com/.

You can also find out native pollinator species at your precise zip code from the organization Butterflies and Moths of North America. http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/