500-mile hike to raise awareness of plight affecting pollinators

Tony Singh is a long-distance walker whose credits include the Appalachian Trail, but he will embark later this month on a 500-mile trek with a purpose beyond himself.

He and his daughter Moselle will hike the rugged Colorado Trail to raise awareness about an issue critical to humanity’s future: the preservation of honeybees for food security.

More than $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables, depends upon the health and well-being of honeybees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and bee populations have been declining.

To teach people about pollinators such as bees, the urgency of stemming their decline by securing the habitat that houses them and what people can do to help, the Singhs will collect pledges for each mile walked to fund educational programs in the Quad-Cities.

Singh will personally match the amount raised, up to $25,000, and the Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport will be the fiscal agent.

“The whole effort is just wonderful,” said Kathy Wine, the director of Davenport-based River Action Inc. and the secretary of the Nahant Marsh board.

In addition to education, money might also be used to plant gardens to attract and nourish pollinators, she said.

“The need is great. Our monarch (butterfly) population has been reduced this year by 90 percent,” she said, referring to the butterfly that is also a pollinator. “We need to make them healthy again. And I pledged.”

Globally, bees are in decline for various reasons, including pesticide use, disease, parasites, nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants and habitat destruction.  

Problem seen firsthand

Singh has read the news accounts, and he has seen the evidence on his own land, a 34-acre tract of woods, prairie plantings and wetlands in rural LeClaire.

Three times he and his wife Joyce have tried to raise honeybees, and three times the bees have died. For the past eight years, the couple has not used any pesticides on their property, and they have installed a great diversity of plants. “But in spite of all the efforts, it seems that is not working,” Singh said of beekeeping.

“Yes, we do see pollinators, but when we moved there 18 years ago, there were many more. And pheasants. We used to have pheasants on the road! And quail! Now there are no quail. There’s just a general disappearance of all these critters that used to be around,” he said.

“The demise of honeybees should alert us that our own well-being might be similarly threatened.” 

By day, Singh is senior vice president of The Singh Group/Merrill Lynch in Davenport.

His daughter, 23, is a 2013 anthropology graduate of Augustana College in Rock Island. After graduation, she spent seven months in Nicaragua learning about permaculture design, which means designing agro-ecosystems that are sustainable, that produce food by constantly replenishing themselves. In October, she will travel to India for a seed-saving program.

About the walk

The Singhs will begin their “Walk for the Bees” south of Denver on Aug. 15 and hope to finish near Durango on Sept. 20, a period of five weeks. Four to six weeks is about average for the trek, according to the website coloradotrail.org.

Two big challenges are the elevation — most of the trail averages 10,000 feet above sea level — and weather systems in which lightning creates danger for those on exposed ridges.

The trail travels through remote areas, including five national forests and five wilderness areas. The Singhs will carry all of their supplies with them, checking in at six stops to resupply. 

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