The pollinator garden on the north side of the Plaindealer building was named the community service project of the year for Class B newspapers by the Nebraska Press Association.

The pollinator garden outside the Plaindelaer Publishing building has now been recognized by more than visiting gardeners and the pollinators that populate it.

The garden project was named by the Nebraska Press Association as the Community Service Project of the Year for newspapers its size.

The contest is sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald. Contest judges give special consideration to initiative, enterprise, originality and effectiveness in determining a winner.

This year’s judges cited the newspaper’s “impressive collaboration,” with University Extension and other organizations in the construction and funding of the garden.

They called the project “an excellent environmental project that will serve the community for decades. It is a great model for other communities as well as home gardens.”

The garden was developed as a joint effort between the paper and the Burt County Extension Office. Construction was funded largely through grants, including gifts from Greener Towns program coordinated by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum in partnership with the Nebraska Forest Service and the Nebraska Environmental Trust It provides funding and design assistance for the development of community spaces statewide. The program’s goal is to help communities plant trees and gardens that build soil, save energy, protect water and create wildlife habitat.

It also received a Public Information & Education Grant from the Nebraska of Academy of Sciences; $10,000 in keno proceeds from the City of Tekamah, as well as donations from University of Nebraska Extension in Burt County, Burt County Pheasants Forever, Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District and several local families.

The pollinator garden also received a sizeable grant from the Lee Foundation which is operated by the newspaper’s parent company.

The project started with an inquiry about tree planting options for an 11,000 square foot green space located to the north of the newspaper office. The space was mostly a blank slate of grass but had a few dying and dilapidated trees that needed to be removed and possibly replaced. The initial question was to find out which species of trees would be best suited for that space.

After a number of conversations and discussions, Burt County Extension Educator John Wilson posed the question to Plaindealer publisher Mike Wood, “What if we also made it an educational space for the community?”

This simple question evolved into what is now the Tekamah Community Pollinator Garden.

In 2018, Wood and Wilson worked with a number of different experts on development of a green space that would accomplish a few main goals. They included: aesthetic improvement of the unused green space providing a better visual appeal to the community of Tekamah; a welcoming space that can be used by the public; subject of the space to be of an educational value; property value improvement for a Lee Enterprise division; and it should be funded by grants, donations and volunteerism.

Most of the garden was constructed during 2019. Over 50 volunteers assisted throughout various phases and many of those people helped from beginning to end. It is estimated that just in the summer of 2019 over 200 hours of volunteer time were donated and many more hours were likely not recorded, Wood said.

The Tekamah Pollinator Garden officially opened to the public on Sept. 23, 2019.

“School groups and master gardener groups already have taken trips to the garden, using it as a medium learn and understand the importance of pollinators and how a project like this can make a huge difference in their population regrowth,” Wood said.