"What we have created is an oasis," said Eileen East, "at least for struggling animals and insects."
When you turn into the driveway of Nic and Eileen East's Hill Home Forge Bed & Breakfast in Jim Thorpe, the first thing you see, besides the oversized ironman sculpture of Nic, is a sign reading, Certified Wildlife Habitat.
The National Wildlife Federation signifies properties as Certified Wildlife Habitat that meet four criteria. The property must: provide food for wildlife, supply water for wildlife, create cover for wildlife, and give wildlife a place to raise their young.
Property owners who meet these criteria may apply for certification through the National Wildlife Federation, the largest private, nonprofit conservation education and advocacy organization in the United States. Its mission is "to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future."
For the Easts, the journey began four years ago when a guest at their B&B acted strangely. "He would go onto the porch and stand there, frozen, not moving, just staring into the woods," said Nic. "When we would step outside into the porch, he would not be aware anything was happening behind him."
Perplexed at his catatonic behavior, the Easts were at a loss for an explanation. "By the end of the week, he had us freaked out. We were thinking that there was something really wrong with this guy," Eileen said.
"Then, on the very last day, he said that he wanted to show us something. He opened his laptop and displayed a listing with photographs of all the birds that he had seen on the property. He had them on an internet site called eBird."
"You have a really good bird center here," he said.
"That's when we realized that what he was doing was listening for birdsongs and looking for birds," Eileen said.
"He was seeing things that we didn't see because we weren't looking for them," Nic noted. "He was looking for birds and he was finding them."
Thrilled that her property was a natural birdwatching center, and hoping to share this information with prospective guests, Eileen began to research how to make her property even more attractive to birds.
In an independent vein, Eileen had become fascinated with the trees on the property, and as one thing led to another, she became involved in the Master Gardener program. This year, she worked on building a pollinator garden outside their office at Mauch Chunk Lake Park, on her own property, and offering advice to others such as the Friends of the Dimmick Memorial Library.
In transforming their property into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, Eileen planted native plants to attract insects, especially caterpillars, that birds seek out for protein, and Nic oversaw piling plant cuttings to provide shelter for wildlife. For water, they have a birdbath.
Their property attracts a wide variety of animals. The Easts have spotted: groundhogs, rabbits, voles, skunks and foxes. "We don't have many deer but I have seen one coyote and one bobcat and have seen tracks from raccoons.
"We have bear but they don't live on our property, she continued, They go after our trash cans and used to go after out bird feeders before we realized they had become bear feeders. I have discovered by increasing the insect population in my yard, I have attracted more birds then when I put up bird feeders."
The Easts planted species like goldenrod, snake root, daisy fleabane, and butterfly bush that attract insects. "By raising the insect population, we increased the bird population because the birds need insects in the spring to feed to their offspring. Native plants attract insects."
"I think that the underlying idea that unifies people doing this, to make pollinating gardens and to get wildlife habitat certifications is that we feel like we are united in the year of trying to help animals and insects struggling against habitat loss."
To learn more about the Certified Wildlife Habitat program, visit: http://www.nwf.org. To talk to a Carbon County Master Gardener, call on Tuesdays: 570-325-2788.