BAXTER SPRINGS — Employees of Liberty Utilities were in Baxter Springs on Friday, May 10 to plant gardens at the signs welcoming visitors to the city on U.S. Route 69 Alternate in coordination with volunteers from the Baxter Springs Dream Team as part of Liberty Utilities’ “Power to the Pollinator” program.

“We come out and we help cities out to improve the aesthetics by planting some plants and trees that are friendly to pollinators,” said Jason Grossman, manager of transmission and distribution vegetation for Liberty Utilities.

Previous Power to the Pollinator projects have included a pollinator garden at Landreth Park in Joplin. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, and various other species.

“Pollinators are in decline,” Grossman said. “We’re not really sure why, but helping improve a lot of their habitat and food sources will help their populations bounce back. Monarchs specifically are a potential listing for the Endangered Species Act. But pollinators in general help provide a lot of the food that we eat. Especially with Kansas being a pretty agricultural state, it’s important to make sure that we have a healthy pollinator population.”

Sandra Cook, a Baxter Springs resident and Dream Team member said attracting monarch butterflies in particular is one goal for the pollinator garden.

“There are people who love butterflies that follow what they call the Monarch Butterfly Trail and it comes through Baxter Springs, Kansas, from the south going north,” Cook said, “and there will be a sign out there with the butterfly to designate to people that are traveling and coming in that this is the butterfly trail.”

The Baxter Springs Dream Team is a volunteer community organization “and it’s all of the citizens that want to be a part in the different areas of the town in the rebuilding of the town and doing things like this project,” Cook said.

She also explained how the partnership to plant the pollinator gardens came about.

“It was God-inspired thing,” Cook said. “I lived here in town and I kept being led to go down to the south end of town where you come in from Oklahoma to look at the sign and I just kept watching and asking the Lord what it was all about, and one day I heard someone talk about Marylin Ponder, who was the vegetation manager, and the projects that she worked on, so I called her and asked her if she would be interested in meeting with us.”

Ponder then “got the ball rolling and found out what we would qualify for and how she could help us and it’s just been a wonderful experience,” Cook said.

Ponder, who was also at the garden planting on May 10, said the plants for the garden came from Forrest Keeling Nursery in Elsberry, Missouri, and were donated by Liberty Utilities. There are plans to plant more pollinator gardens in the future, including one that is confirmed for Columbus. There are several other potential cities that have shown interest in planting pollinator gardens with Liberty Utilities’ help but have not officially decided to do so, Ponder said.

Jillian Curtis, media coordinator with Liberty Utilities, explained how Liberty Utilities employees were able to take time off from their normal schedules to help with the garden planting.

“At Liberty Utilities we have this great program called Liberty Days,” Curtis said, “and it’s an employee program and it pushes our employees to take three business days to go out and do some community service in some of our local communities that are in our service territory.”

Curtis said anyone interested in Liberty Utilities’ vegetation and environmental initiatives can call the company at 800-206-2300 for more information.