Monarch butterflies, the vivid orange winged-insects that often elicit childhood memories of watching caterpillars turn into chrysalises and then into a beautiful, vibrant butterflies, are in serious decline.
In the past 20 years, the population has waned by nearly 80 percent – landing them on the short-list for endangered species. The decline comes, in part, from non-native planting techniques that often remove milkweed, the Monarch’s host plant, from new landscapes. Conservationists across the country are heeding the call for action to combat the butterfly’s decline – primarily through efforts to increase milkweed habitat.
Faced with this crisis, East Grand Rapids resident Janet Baxter knew that there had to be something her neighborhood could do to develop a sanctuary for Monarchs and other pollinators.
The solution: returning native wildflowers to Schroeder Park – a 1.72-acre park, located at 2618 Reeds Lake Blvd., that was originally the site of the Willard and Barbara Schroeder family home. Schroeder discovered the property in 1952 during a walk and was instantly moved by its natural beauty. When the family bequeathed the property to the City in 2010, they hoped it would forever be a natural environment for residents and visitors to enjoy. Before approaching the City about using the space, Baxter appealed to her neighbors for help with the project.
“The entire neighborhood was on-board from the beginning – pledging time, effort and financial resources to make it work,” Baxter said. “I’m proud to live in a community that steps up to a problem and volunteers to help.”
Baxter turned to the expertise of:• Amy Heilman, a master gardener with The Living Garden and River City Wild Ones, a non-profit organization that promotes biodiversity through native landscaping• Dave Warners, a biology professor at Calvin College who works in the areas of restoration ecology and sustainability • Deb Sears, a master gardener and co-owner of the Enchanted Gardener, LLC, a local business that designs, plants and maintains gardens and green roofs
Based on their input, Michèle James designed a garden plan that included milkweed and butterflyweed for the Monarchs, as well as New England asters, bee balm, black-eyed susans, columbine and purple coneflowers.
With the support of Parks and Recreation Director Fred Bunn, both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Commission unanimously approved the plan. The plan was perfected with the help of the EGR Parks and Recreation staff, including Phil Weber and Ryan Russell, who also prepped the space for planting.
A crew of local neighbors and Boy Scout Troop 271 gathered recently for the first planting of 300 plugs. Volunteers spent two-hours digging holes, filling them with the native plants and cleaning up the area.
“It was a perfect day,” Baxter said. “We helped our City restore a beautiful, natural landscape that we hope will encourage additional efforts to create biodiversity in our community. We also had the opportunity to educate the Scouts and ourselves on the value Monarchs and other pollinators bring to our ecosystem – and how easy it is to provide a habitat for them. Not to mention, we had fun doing it.
“It’s ‘grass roots’ efforts like this that can provide the momentum for saving our pollinator populations, protecting our environment and ‘beautifying’ our communities,” Baxter said. “I hope Mr. and Mrs. Schroeder would be pleased.”
A second planting will take place in the spring, but a date has not been set yet. Volunteers are welcome to assist in the spring planting.
This project was funded entirely through private donations.