A partnership between Panola Mountain State Park and a teacher at DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts will result in more than 100 acres of park land being used for the preservation and keeping of honeybees.
Rozalyn Todd, a gifted/discovery teacher at DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts (DESA), has been keeping bees for the last 10 years. Almost that whole time, she has been working on a proposal to use land at a state park for apical education.
“People really don’t know about bees and their role as pollinators,” she said. “Even 10 years ago, I noticed how bees were disappearing.”
Honeybee numbers are dropping at an alarming rate of up to 30 percent of colonies each year, through a combination of parasitic mites, pesticides and habitat loss, according to a 2013 report by NPR. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of worldwide crops depend on pollinators to produce food.
Todd decided to do something about the declining bees and threw herself into hobby beekeeping. Over the years she has gone through certification classes at the Young Harris College – University of Georgia Beekeeping Institute and started the Beekeeping Club at DESA. She is also the first Black woman certified as a honey judge in the state of Georgia.
She approached Shawn Baltzell, park manager of Panola Mountain State Park with a proposal to set up a beehive on a few acres of land. He agreed and offered use of an area that has more than 100 acres, including a small lake near Panola Mountain. Honeybees can cover more than 2,500 acres in their search for forage, their pollen and nectar food source.
“Near that area are some abandoned buildings, wildflowers, that sort of thing, that are perfect for bees,” Baltzell said. “It was an easy partnership.”
The 100 acres are located near where guided hikes up the mountain start. And, with no pesticides used near the park, any honey produced will be organic.
“Nobody is allowed back there except with a guided hike,” Baltzell said. “It’s gated off, so the bees will be undisturbed.”
This summer, Todd said she would continue to work on hive boxes as well as surveying the Panola Mountain area for strategic areas to situate the hives. She said she also planned to contact other schools in the county encouraging them to start beekeeping clubs and participate in the Panola Mountain partnership. She also has set her sights beyond the mountain, even as she currently focuses her efforts there.
“My mission and goal is to have beehives in all the state parks in Georgia,” Todd said.
This article originally appeared in The Champion Newspaper.