The blazing orange and black Monarch butterfly, one of the most recognized and loved butterflies in North and Central America, is in danger of disappearing. These small insects play a huge role in pollinating about one third of the world’s food sources and their loss will be heavily felt. With their natural habitat area dwindling in Michigan, the eastern Monarch numbers have decreased by 90%. Bees, another important pollinator, have decreased 50%.
The City of Eaton Rapids’ Quality of Life Board is working to save those Monarch butterflies. They have taken the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, a project launched in 2015 by the National Wildlife Federation. This is the first year that the city has joined in the effort to save the insects who pollinate our food, and it is hoped that it will become an annual project.
The goal of the Monarch program is to engage communities in conserving these important pollinators that pollinate the plants that create our food. Groups take a pledge to help restore the natural habitat of the insects and report their progress to the National Wildlife Federation.
In Eaton Rapids, a sub-committee of the Quality of Life Board decided to take action in saving the butterfly. Eaton Rapids City Council declared May 2021 as Education and Awareness Month for the Monarch. A demonstration garden was started outside of City Hall that features Monarch-friendly plants.
Sub-committee member Amelia Emerson led the way in promoting awareness of the problem and was the driving force for the success of the project, said Lindsey Zeller, Quality of Life director for the city. Emerson once worked as a naturalist at the University of Michigan and taught school for 12 years. She and her family have also “adopted” the flower boxes on the bridges downtown, weeding and watering them.
The group has taken many steps to assist the butterflies. An educational packet was developed which includes a coloring sheet, a word search puzzle, and lots of information about the butterflies as part of the Earth Day celebration in April.
A packet of assorted seeds, provided by the Eaton Conservation District were given out to each student at Lockwood Elementary. These seed packets included sunflower, Black-eyed Susan, zinnia, coneflower, red and gold amaranth, milkweed, Evening Primrose, Mullein, and Swamp Rose Mallow seeds, and will become flowers and plants that benefit the butterfly. Milkweed is a “host” plant for the Monarch butterfly, and is becoming harder to find, as some consider it a weed and destroy it.
Chris Sebastian, chairperson of the Eaton Rapids Arts Council, led a class in painting Monarch butterflies on rocks.
About 50 people showed up for a community Native Plant Exchange held at the Playground of Dreams. Seeds and plants were traded between participants so that gardens would flourish this spring for our butterflies.
A partnership was created with the VFW National Home for Children. They set up a butterfly garden from the seed mix near their childcare area and the veteran flag memorials and provided a real-life demonstration outside the classroom.
Another small garden, a “linear park,” is being set up on Haven Street in partnership with T.A. Forsberg that is developing the Tembo Village in Eaton Rapids. The park will have a grass area but also will house a natural pollinator garden. A picnic table and a little free library will add a way for visitors to sit, read, and enjoy nature.
Zeller was also excited to announce the completion of the Human Foosball court near the Amphitheater at the Playground of Dreams. There are plans to start a Human Foosball league this fall and next spring. Bring your own ball, Zeller suggests, and play until one team reaches ten points. It will also be the location for Outdoor Floor Hockey.