A few years ago TV6/Fox UP dabbled with a family garden. The idea was to create a community garden site, where employees staked out a portion of the plot and grew vegetables for their families. After some discouraging results, the plot went into disuse. Rather than turning it back into a lawn, we followed a new idea. In 2012, that plot of land became a Monarch waystation.
There's a great need across North America to develop and maintain habitats for Monarchs. These eye catching orange and black butterflies have one of the most amazing migrations in the world. Every summer the Northeastern Monarchs fly thousands of miles from Mexico up to Canada. Along that journey the milkweed is their source of life. Monarchs lay eggs on these plants, and milkweed is the only plant the caterpillars eat.
That's where the trouble comes. As more land in North America is developed, milkweed is disappearing. The US is home to 73 varieties of milkweed. Many are now considered rare, threatened, and endangered. With 30 species used by Monarchs, habitat loss is believed to be the main reason the Monarch numbers are dropping.
How bad is the decline? According to MonarchWatch.org, the winter numbers for 2013 are the worst in the past ten years. The fear is if the numbers don't turn around soon, these beautiful butterflies may fly away forever. So this waystation is a way we can make a global difference.
We started the venture by researching what it took to become a registered site for a waystation. After prepping the plot it was time to get some plants. Working with the Marquette County Conservation Office, we tried our best to make sure that the plants we put in are native to the region. In addition to milkweed, we have nectar plants such as cone flowers, bee balm and Joe Pye weed. Things went surprisingly well. We found caterpillars the very first year, followed quickly by Monarchs.
Knowing that the plot was working, in 2013 we registered with MonarchWatch.org to become an official location. Our certification number is 6757, and we chose the fun name of the Rainbow Rest Stop. That summer was the first indication that the numbers could be bad. While we did have a lone caterpillar, no one at the station ever sighted a Monarch.
As we prepare for summer 2014 we start with great hope. Now at the end of May the plants are greening up. The all important milkweed is sprouting already and spreading. And now that things have warmed up, we anticipate some rapid plant growth. As for the butterflies - it's still too early to tell.
Through the summer we will post updates. Feel free to stop by our offices on US 41 in Negaunee Township and see what we have in place. We also want to encourage you to join the effort to save the Monarch. Despite the name, milkweed is a very decorative plant, and has a wonderful scent. Being native to the Upper Peninsula, it grows very well. If you want further information, feel free to contact us, your local county conservation office, or MonarchWatch.org. And if you have a waystation already established feel free to post pictures and share stories about how you got started on our facebook page.