Environment

It’s surprisingly peaceful at the McAlpine Locks and Dam next to Louisville’s Portland neighborhood. Traffic whizzes past on the nearby interstate, but otherwise it’s quiet. On a recent weekday morning, no boats are waiting to go through the locks, and the only sounds other than the highway are birds.

The Locks are major infrastructure for the area. Operated and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, they’re the portal for boats — from kayaks to barges — that want to pass Louisville on the Ohio River. The Locks themselves are steel and concrete, but they’re surrounded by a lot of green space. And that green space is what the Army Corps has its eye on.

“There’s a lot of wildlife,” said Keith Chasteen, pointing to the lawn. “Last time I was out here there was a fox down here.”

This green space will be the site of the first pollinator plantings.Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

This green space will be the site of the first pollinator plantings.

At present, the green space is mostly grass with a few small trees. Chasteen, who’s a Natural Resources Management Specialist with the Corps, said they have to keep it mowed to make sure it doesn’t go wild.

But starting with a small area next month, the Corps has a new plan to turn nearly 12 acres of lawn into pollinator habitats over the next few years.

Instead of the mowed grass, the green space will be filled with native plants that attract pollinators — like bees and butterflies.

“What that will do is one, not only provide a habitat for pollinators and other species of wildlife, but it will provide a cost savings,” Chasteen said.

Swapping out the grass for the native plants means the Corps can save on mowing. And it helps support local pollinators at a time when many species are on the decline.

Pollinators are essential for the country’s agriculture sector; they help plants reproduce by moving pollen from one place to another. But around the world, the numbers of pollinators are dropping due to factors like habitat loss, disease and chemical use.

Colony collapse disorder is estimated to have wiped out millions of beehives since 2006. But creating habitats especially for insects like bees and butterflies is one way to help slow the species’ decline.

The McAlpine Locks is already meant to be used as an open public space; there are displays and exhibits about the infrastructure, and viewing platforms for visitors to watch boats lock through. But Chasteen said once the pollinator plantings are finished, the hope is that it will provide another attraction.

“It will become sort of an outdoor education area where school groups can come, scout groups can come and learn about the different pollinators, learn about the different plants,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is having a pollinator planting day on Saturday, May 14, and is seeking people to come and help complete the planting. For more details, click here.