Greig property transformed into wildlife garden

A trail camera captures a groundhog scurrying across the lawn at Gray Haven Vacation Rental in Greig. Joseph and Malinda Zehr have made improvements to their property to attract wildlife, including adding a birdhouse such as the one seen on the tree line. Photo submitted

GREIG — The owners of Gray Haven Vacation Rental have transformed their property into a refuge not only for people but for wildlife.

When Joseph and Malinda Zehr bought a property on Sweeney Road in 2012 at a Lewis County tax sale, it was just an abandoned house on 10 acres with a year-round stream.

“Most of the woods is ‘natural.’ By that I mean it has fallen down trees, briars and deep wheel tracks from whenever it was last logged off,” said the Zehr’s news release. “We are trying to create a place/haven where others can rest, relax, reconnect and rejuvenate.”

With that idea in mind, the Zehrs created an area which has been recognized by the National Wildlife Federation, America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the organization’s Garden for Wildlife program.

According to a release, the program was established to recognized efforts “to create a garden that supports birds, butterflies, bees, frogs and other local wildlife. Every Certified Wildlife Habitat garden provides natural sources of food, water, cover and places to raise young and is maintained in a sustainable way that incorporates native plants, conserves water and doesn’t rely on pesticides.”

The Zehrs have added 14 Elderberry bushes, several Blue Spruce, Ninebark, Yellow Birch, Hybrid Poplars, River Birch, Sycamore, Red Maple and Silver Maple trees in and around the yard.

“We’ve planted Red Twig Dogwood which did not survive,” said the Zehr’s news release. “The deer browse everything, so this spring we’ve been building wire cages, hoping to save some of our plantings. The Elderberry bushes have been fenced. We have also worked at cutting down dead trees and pulling out an invasive honeysuckle that seems to grow everywhere.”

Mr. Zehr has built and installed bird houses since birds are plentiful with Bluebirds, House Wrens, Gold Finches, Purple Finches, Phoebes, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Chickadees, Woodpeckers and Flycatchers.

“There are wildflowers in spite of the woodchuck that ate the burgundy Trillium and the Jack in the Pulpit earlier,” said Mrs. Zehr. “It is not uncommon to see deer, turkeys and woodchucks in the yard. We’ve also seen raccoons, red squirrels and chipmunks.”

Mrs. Zehr said to receive the certification, she answered questions on the Wildlife Federation’s website.

“I had previously certified our yard in the village of Lowville many years ago and wanted to do the same for Gray Haven. There are many folks in the village who could easily do the same,” she said. “Years ago when I did the first one, I needed to map the yard and list food and water sources, but I had taken a gardening class and did it sort of as my project. Audubon may have something similar and a few years ago Cornell had a Backyard Habitat Program that lost it’s funding.”

According to the organization’s news release, for over 45 years, the Garden for Wildlife movement has recognized over 2,000 Certified Wildlife Habitat gardens across the United States, encompassing more than 2.5 million acres that support wildlife locally. Backyards, urban gardens, school grounds, businesses, places of worship, campuses, parks, farms, zoos and community landscapes can all be recognized as wildlife habitats through the program.

“Anyone, anywhere can restore wildlife habitat right in their own yards and communities,” said naturalist David Mizejewski. “Whether you garden in a suburban yard, an urban area or a rural plot of land, you can make a difference for local wildlife. Creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat garden is fun, easy and makes a real difference for neighborhood wildlife. It’s the perfect grassroots way to think globally and act locally and help birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife.”

Participants who have their wildlife habitat garden certified receive a personalized certificate with a unique habitat number, a one-year membership to National Wildlife Federation, with a subscription to National Wildlife magazine, a subscription to the Garden for Wildlife e-newsletter, a 10 percent discount to National Wildlife catalog, and the exclusive right to post a Certified Wildlife Habitat yard sign.

For more information on National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife movement and how to qualify to have a garden space recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, visit or call 1-800-822-9919.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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