COLUMBUS, Ohio – Where others see decay, Leslie Pasmore sees sanctuary.
She has spent the past nine months converting a vacant, weed-strewn urban lot into a haven for birds.
After watching goldfinches, orioles and cardinals feed on weeds in the lot next to her home on 5th Street in Columbus' Weinland Park neighborhood, she launched the campaign.
"Those birds sounded so sweet," she said. "Then, all of a sudden, the city brought this Bobcat over with these big chains under it, and, in a matter of seconds, it was all clear. I was so upset."
Pasmore went to the city and the Weinland Park Community Civic Association with an unusual plea: Don't mow the vacant lot.
She suggested turning the lot into a bird sanctuary. With their help, she received permission from the owner, Wagenbrenner Development, to do work on the site.
During several gatherings in the summer, Pasmore and her helpers cleaned the lot, planted bird-friendly plants and trees, hung bird feeders and posted a painted plywood sign: "Bird Sanctuary of the 5th Street Neighborhood."
The Weinland Park food and wellness committee, and the Godman Guild Association spread the word and recruited volunteers. Lowe's donated dwarf apple and plum trees.
Local Matters, a Columbus non-profit group that promotes local food growth, helped Pasmore plan the garden and solicit donations. The Grange Insurance Audubon Center contributed plants.
Trish Dehnbostel, a program manager with Local Matters, sees the sanctuary as part of a larger effort to maximize the value of empty urban lots. She has talked to Wagenbrenner about planting community gardens on more of the company's Weinland Park lots.
"Leslie's project has been so fun," Dehnbostel said. "It's important for all of us to figure out how to use land in urban areas."
Volunteers have planted raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cosmos, sunflowers, daisies, marigolds, grapes and other plants in raised beds. Around the beds, they have left some of the bird-friendly wild plants such as chicory, viburnum, morning glory, burdock and other thistles.
Despite all the help, Pasmore knows there's plenty more to do.
She would like to add a real sign and replace the broken wire fence that surrounds the lot. She wants to substitute a proper path for the wooden planks that snake through the site.
Eventually, she would like to see a beehive and maybe even a chicken coop in the sanctuary.
Mostly, however, she needs tools, plants and birdseed.
"I'm always begging for birdseed," she said.
"And money!" quipped Julia Orban, chairwoman of Weinland Park's food and wellness committee.
Gail Laux, executive director of the Ohio Bird Sanctuary in Mansfield, praised Pasmore's efforts and noted that schools and other organizations have created similar butterfly or bird foraging areas on their grounds.
"It sounds like they have a great start by planting plants that generate food and shelter," she said.
"It's very exciting. Every little bit helps."
Pasmore is already enjoying the early fruits of her labors.
"I've seen yellow goldfinches; robins; cardinals; woodpeckers; orioles; some crows – but they don't like what we have; chickadees; titmice; mourning doves; sparrows; and, of course, squirrels," she said. "We had a falcon, but I think he was looking for my birds for a meal."
Surveying her sanctuary recently, Pasmore paused to note how far her dream has come in less than a year.
"This was full of trash, beer bottles, everything," she said. "But people like it now. Doesn't it feel therapeutic?"
Story distributed by The Associated Press.