The Bee Line: Forwarding a Vision

Imagine a roadside right-of-way that can increase native biodiversity, assist with carbon cycling and sequestration, help purify water, and reduce soil erosion. If you’ve ever traveled along Pierce Butler Route, you’ve driven that right of way, known as the “Bee Line.” 
In 2022, a group of Frogtown and Hamline Midway residents envisioned Pierce Butler Route’s grassy south boulevard as a series of interconnected green features running along a 2.25-mile corridor. Ideas included a series of pollinator-beneficial gardens, rain gardens, strategic tree plantings, and a meadow. That year, the group received $40,000 from the Minnesota “Lawns to Legumes” project, and the Bee Line was born.
The envisioned Bee Line runs from the intersection of Dale St and Minnehaha Ave to Newell Park, just beyond the Snelling/Pierce Butler entrance ramp. Generous support from the Lawns to Legumes grant has hastened expansion of existing components – Monarch City Gardens near Dale and Minnehaha, Pierce Butler Meadows near Snelling, and the west anchor, Newell Park – and helped advance plans for others. 
Today, the project moves forward apace as a collaboration between Frogtown Green and the Hamline Midway Coalition. Curious, I decided to check in on some of the project’s ardent supporters about their activities over the past year and their dreams for the Bee Line’s future. 
Garden, nature, and local food educator Stephanie Hankerson is a long-time supporter of the Bee Line. She’s a nature educator and co-creator of MN SEED, an organization that conducts seed harvesting workshops, swaps and sharing events, many in Bee Line native wildflower gardens. MN SEED shares collected seeds freely with community members. “Last season over 7,000 seeds packets were shared at our events,” she said, adding, “Participants harvested over 135 native pollinator plant species at programmed educational events.” MN SEED events promote community sharing and biodiversity, a common spirit along the Bee Line.
Local historian and wildflower enthusiast Paul Nelson possesses that same ethos. He leads Thursday morning volunteer plantings at Monarch City Gardens, an ever-growing oasis of native wildflowers encircling the West Minnehaha playing fields. He explained to me that last year saw the addition of a dozen new species to the garden, along with some trees and shrubs. Despite noting challenges such as “the infiltration of grasses, especially quack grass,” Paul’s sanguine vision for the future of Monarch City and the Bee Line prevails. “An aspect of the Bee Line is a wish to bring some beauty to the Pierce Butler corridor. It’s ugly now, something to pass through. But it doesn’t have to be THIS ugly,” he said. “Imagine a Bee Line that was leafy, sometimes colorful, and gentle on the eye. People would love it and some would wonder, ‘Why can’t more roadways be like this?’ Beauty is, or can be, tremendously productive.”
Chris Stevens is a master gardener and co-director of Frogtown Green, a community-led green organization. With a recent  grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Chris led an effort to plant a “mini-forest” at Our Village Community Garden, along the Bee Line corridor. Chris used principles from the Miyawaki Method of reforestation, which transforms vacant lots or landscapes with many non-native plants into tiny, biodiverse forests. 
On a recent Saturday morning, Frogtown Green volunteers planted 600 tree and shrub sapling varieties native to the area in an area no larger than a half-dozen parking spaces. Chris explained: “We chose to plant woody species that would have existed at the location during pre-European settlement times. This biome is considered an oak forest. These plants would have evolved with the insects, birds and other animals native to the area. They will provide habitat for them again as well as act as a living wall from the traffic on Pierce Butler Route.” The hope is for a mature natural forest to emerge within decades, instead of centuries.
Pierce Butler Meadow adds another dimension to environmental diversity along the corridor. Since 2018 Steven Mitrione and a host of other volunteers have made slow, steady progress establishing native plants in the massive swale formed by the Snelling-Pierce Butler interchange.  Many of the plants and seeds have come from MN SEED. Despite challenging drought conditions, plantings have increased due to leveraging community support. 
“We have held several events where volunteers have planted native seedlings that we have raised through MN SEED’s winter sowing program,” Steve explains. “Through this program we have been able to develop a native plant source by enlisting individuals in our community who plant seeds in the winter, tend them through the summer, and return them to us for planting in the fall. This harnessing of community involvement and support has allowed us to develop a wide palette of native plants on a shoestring budget. Seeds have exponential power,” opines Steve.
Like Paul, Chris, and Stephanie, Steve is unabashedly hopeful. “We hope to continue to involve the community in our work as a way of educating the public about the importance of native plants in the creation of an ecosystem that supports wildlife and us.” He continues, “We also hope to show how beautiful these landscapes can be. It has been very heartening to see that every time we are working on the site as a group, people honk their approval as they drive by on Pierce Butler. We have our fans out there. We hope to win over more.”
Recently, Bee Line planners secured a contract with the firm, EOR, a water resource-based engineering and environmental consulting group, to develop an environmental assessment plan with green infrastructure improvement recommendations for the Bee Line. EOR landscape architect Britta Hansen summed up the plan as “proposed improvements along the Bee Line that include native vegetation for pollinator habitat, trees, and green stormwater infrastructure such as rain gardens, tree trenches and permeable pavements. These improvements will help beautify the Bee Line, while also making it and surrounding neighborhoods more resilient to climate change.”
The firms’ final report, funded by Ramsey County and the Capitol Region Watershed District, is due later this summer. Britta cautiously added: “To do this we have walked the route and analyzed drainage patterns with desktop tools. We have learned that there are many sites of soil contamination along the Bee Line that MPCA is monitoring. This is because of both industry and the railroad which runs on the north side of the Bee Line.”
Britta’s expertise and assistance will be highly valued. In addition to a map of proposed habitat and infrastructure improvement opportunities, she said that the report will include an analysis of stormwater management and water quality potential of a several sites along the Bee Line. 
These supporters and volunteers exude hope and optimism in the Bee Line. They see the various pieces of built and green infrastructure as necessarily reliant upon growing community support and advocacy. Audrey Hepburn’s pithy adage “To plant a garden is to dream of tomorrow” is apropos. And yet, mulling over these supporters’ ideas, I’m left to wonder if simply to dream of tomorrow is to plant a garden? 
Rennie Gaither is a Frogtown Green volunteer. Frogtown Green is a resident-led and volunteer-powered environmental initiative in St Paul’s most diverse neighborhood. If you’d like to know more, browse or call 651-757-5970. For more detail on the Bee Line, see 


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