By Hallie Kutch, Parks & Recreation Marketing Assistant
The dazzling monarch butterfly weighs less than a dime but soars on wind currents for thousands of miles on a remarkable annual journey.
The monarch migrates to Mexico in the winter to avoid the cold of Canada, then returns in the warmer months. The incredible flight can be up to 3,000 miles and may take up to four generations.
The monarch’s brilliant orange, black, and white colors make it the most recognized of all butterflies. Once a common sight in the summer, its population declined by 90 percent from 1995 to 2014.
Last weekend, the Rio Brazos Audubon Society took part in the annual North American Butterfly Count at several area parks. During more than seven hours in the field, the group counted 201 butterflies from 30 species. Only two were monarchs.
The primary culprit is the decline of the milkweed plant due to changes in agricultural practices. Although not a farmer’s favorite, milkweed is a vital source of the food for the monarch. The plant fuels their flight and provides a place for the next generation to begin its pilgrimage.
Thanks to concerted efforts of enthusiasts and government entities, the monarch is slowly regaining its reign, but its numbers are nowhere near the one billion that once fluttered across the United States.
Mayor’s monarch pledge
The National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services initiated an effort to save the butterfly population by creating the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. The campaign calls on government leaders to commit to specific actions in their communities to protect the threatened butterfly.
Texas A&M researcher and butterfly enthusiast Craig Wilson introduced the operation to College Station Mayor Nancy Berry and Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski, who signed the pledge in January.
To honor the promise, the City of College Station is creating a monarch-friendly demonstration garden at Lick Creek Park and a butterfly trail near the new Lick Creek Nature Center. In addition, mowing schedules have been altered to allow milkweed to grow, and milkweed and other plants that benefit pollinators are being placed in community and school gardens to educate and engage our citizens.
The College Station Parks & Recreation Department is collaborating with Keep Brazos Beautiful and the A&M Garden Club to help restore and conserve the declining population. More than 50 pounds of milkweed seed has been planted at Veterans Park & Athletic Complex, Richard Carter Park, Stephen C. Beachy Central Park, Memorial Cemetery, and the Aggie Field of Honor.
In 2009, Wilson collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create People’s Garden, a small monarch garden across from Wolf Pen Creek Park that has become a registered waystation featuring milkweed and other nectar flowers.
How you can help
As Wilson said, “If you plant it, they will come.”
We encourage everyone with a bit of a spare garden space to plant native milkweed and other nectar-producing plants. Becoming part of this community effort will help one of the great wonders of nature continue and will give you a front row seat to watch the spectacular metamorphosis and migration.
Wilson will be part of a free community planning meeting on Friday, July 29 about developing habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. The meeting will be from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the USDA Building (1001 Holleman Dr. East) and will feature representatives from a variety of community groups.
To register, send your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, here are some tips for your garden:
- Prime time for planting milkweed is early June and July.
- Pick a spot with lots of sunshine.
- Light soils are better than those with heavy clay.
- Gardens need a combination of milkweed and nectar plants such as Black-Eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers, and Joe-Pye Weed.
- Make sure your garden is pesticide free.
- Look for the monarch caterpillar in July, August, September, and October.
Are you ready to do your part? Stop by Stephen C. Beachy Central Park Office at 1000 Krenek Tap Rd. on weekdays between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. to receive two free milkweed seed packets per household. For more information, call 979-764-3486.
We also invite you to share your milkweed garden through social media by using the hashtag #CSTXPARKS.
Plant milkweed, save the monarchs!
Hallie Kutch is in her first year as a recreation assistant in the Parks & Recreation Department after graduating from Texas A&M in December with a degree in sports management and a minor in tourism research management. She has previously worked with the Dallas Sidekicks professional soccer team and Texas Team Junior Golf. Originally from White Oak, Hallie also attended Kilgore College and was a member of the famed Kilgore Rangerettes dance team.
Monarch Photo: pat138241/123RF Stock Photo
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