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Aug 24, 2016 03:25PM

Mad about monarchs: Annual festival celebrates, raises awareness of monarch butterflies

By Annie L. Scholl
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The second annual Monarch Migration Festival will be Saturday, Sept. 10, on the grounds of the Lakeside Nature Center, 1033 South Lake Storey Rd., Galesburg.
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When the city of Galesburg hosts the second annual Monarch Migration Festival later this month, the celebration will be more than just a fun day that honors the orange and black butterfly; it's about raising awareness about the importance of monarch conservation.

"Monarchs are much more than beautiful," says Elizabeth Varner, recreation supervisor for Galesburg's parks and recreation department. "They are declining in population and need us to help protect their habitat, which also is beneficial to other pollinators."

Monarch populations are diminishing because of a loss of habitat, Monarch Watch director Chip Taylor shares on the organization's website, monarchwatch.org. Monarch Watch is a nonprofit educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas.

To combat the decline and ensure the future for monarchs, the organization advocates for the conservation and restoration of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food. Without milkweed, the migrating monarchs do not have a place to lay their eggs.

Referred to by some as the "canary in the cornfield," the monarch's decline signals extensive problems in the insect world, including the well-publicized loss of pollinators, such as bees, which are vital to our food supply.

Through this fall, thanks to funding provided by Monsanto and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Monarch Watch is offering free milkweed plugs for large-scale restoration projects. For more information, visit the organization's website.

Festivalgoers in Galesburg will have the opportunity to create seed balls of milkweed and native plant seed to help restore habitat. Simply Native Nursery of Alexis, Ill., also will be giving away native plants to the first 50 people at the festival.

The festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 10, at the Lakeside Nature Center, 1033 South Lake Storey Rd., Galesburg. Admission is free.

The festival is the brainchild of Rhonda Brady, also known as "The Butterfly Lady." Since 1997, through the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardner program, Brady has been volunteering to tag monarchs and teach people about the monarch's life cycle, migration and conservation needs.

"I am primarily descended from farmers and teachers," says Brady, 64, of rural Warren County. "Being a good steward of our earth while living in it has been a part of my life since I was small."

The festival provides a time and place "to celebrate monarchs, the migration, pollinators and the habitat needs of the monarch and pollinators," and also showcases the nature center, Brady says.

"More Monarch Waystations are needed in Western Illinois to provide safe habitat for our monarchs and pollinators," she says. "When a Monarch Waystation is created, planted and cared for, all pollinators benefit, as does our food supply and, ultimately, we do as well."

A habitat garden at Lakeside is listed by Monarch Watch as a certified Monarch Waystation for providing the necessary resources for monarchs to "produce successive generations and sustain their migration."

Varner says Brady helped raise her awareness about the monarch's plight. She and the parks and recreation department "appreciate all of her enthusiasm and work" to raise awareness and protect the monarch population, Varner says.

Last year's monarch festival exceeded all expectations, the two women say. Varner estimates that more than 400 people attended the event.

During this year's festival, attendees can adopt a monarch and tag it through Monarch Watch. Tagging monarchs contributes to conservation and research efforts.

Brady's research and work in tagging "has proven to me the monarchs from Western Illinois have in fact ended up in Mexico, traveling over 1,589 miles," Brady says.

Varner says the monarch tagging and releasing was one of her favorite parts of last year's festival. "It was amazing to see the monarch being released by all the children," she says. "It was a tremendous experience and opportunity for them to be involved."

Attendees also may participate in the Symbolic Migration by creating a paper butterfly during the festival. The symbolic butterflies will be sent to Mexico to correspond with the real monarchs' journey. Students who live in the monarchs' winter sanctuary region in Mexico will protect the paper butterflies and return them north in the spring, along with messages. The Symbolic Migration is expected to attract 60,000 students across the globe.

Brady promises there will be much to see and do at the September festival. Butterflies are a "bright vivid spot in the insect world," she says, "and their migration is a "magical part of life, helping us understand how our world works together."

Annie L. Scholl is a frequent Radish contributor. For more information about the Monarch Migration Festival, call 309-345-3683.


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