Last week was a very exciting one for Oakland’s Pollinator Posse. And although we almost lost a life, the story turned out to have a happy ending.

Let me explain. Children’s Fairyland and the Gardens at Lake Merritt have butterfly gardens to attract Monarchs. We work together to collect caterpillars, which we turn over to Oakland classrooms for students to raise. Once the caterpillars complete their magical transformation into butterflies, the kids return to Lakeside Park to watch them fly away. It’s a very joyful process.

The Pollinator Posse is a volunteer group that creates pollination corridors and hand-raises butterflies to increase their survival rates. (They also do it because it’s fun!) Members of the Posse include representatives and volunteers at the Gardens at Lakeside Park, The Insect Sciences Museum of California, Children’s Fairyland, and elementary school students and teachers in Piedmont and Oakland.

Representatives of the City of Oakland, Kaiser Permanente and Oakland Rotary 3 volunteer during the MLK Day of Service to create an outdoor classroom next to Lakeside Park’s Rotary Nature Center.

Representatives of the City of Oakland, Kaiser Permanente and Oakland Rotary 3 volunteer during the MLK Day of Service to create an outdoor classroom next to Lakeside Park’s Rotary Nature Center.

On Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, more than 50 volunteers helped make a dream of the Posse come true: they helped create an outdoor classroom next to Lakeside Park’s Rotary Nature Center. The space will be used to educate our community’s kids about the importance of pollinators and about how they can become citizen scientists to protect our unique local ecosystem. Key partners in the project included the City of Oakland, Oakland Rotary 3, and Kaiser Permanente.

What an amazing transformation! An old pond and a messy former garden were completely cleared, a pathway was installed and the ground was prepped for the installation of benches. The benches will be made of wood recycled from the epic eucalyptus that fell during last autumn’s big windstorm beside Lake Merritt, and the space—adjacent to the center’s popular observation beehive—will become an amphitheater. Kids from all of Oakland’s recreation centers will use the classroom to learn about their natural surroundings.

The posse didn’t stop there: its diligent workers also installed a new exhibit about local insects inside the Nature Center.

There was one more dramatic Pollinator Posse event last week. Terri Smith, an inspired teacher and Posse member who teaches at Havens Elementary School in Piedmont, told the story on Facebook:

“Second grade classroom has ‘lost’ one of their Monarch caterpillars (named Fern) over the MLK weekend. They’ve discussed how this is such a mystery because a caterpillars job is to eat and poop, and why would it leave the milkweed? I prepared for the worst—intrepid science teacher brings the classroom two new eggs to replace Fern while dreading the ‘dead’ talk. As I go to move Fern’s post-it note label to a memorial position in the terrarium, who should I find but Fern hiding on the back of the post-it. End result: ecstatic 2nd graders, relieved science teacher, and classroom now raising four caterpillars including Fern’s partner Billy Bob. This is why I teach.”

So there you have it. A new classroom to teach about the importance of our community’s pollinators, and a butterfly named Fern who will live to fly another day. It’s all in a week’s work for the Pollinator Posse.

If you want to spread your wings with us, visit gardensatlakemerritt.org.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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