A Visit to a Monarch Waystation

After posting about Monarch butterflies during the first week of August – and asserting that they seemed more plentiful this year – I suddenly stopped seeing them; not in my yard, nor anywhere I went. So it was extremely gratifying last week to visit Peninsula State Park’s Monarch Waystation and to be instantly greeted by a single elegant Monarch, prominently attached to the broad flower-head of a Queen’s Anne Lace.

This is the first monarch I saw  at Peninsula State Park's Monarch Waystation.  Can you find it with the Queen Anne's Lace on the left side of the photo?

This is the first monarch I saw at Peninsula State Park’s Monarch Waystation. Can you find it with the Queen Anne’s Lace on the left side of the photo?

Two Monarchs perched on the flower heads of a Joe Pye Weed plant.

Two Monarchs perched on the flower heads of a Joe Pye Weed plant.

It was easy to find other Monarchs throughout the colorful garden, in every direction I looked. The garden is the focal point right now, of the meadow adjacent to the park’s White Cedar Nature Center off Bluff Road. And, Park Naturalist Kathleen Harris confirmed for me that yes, this does seem to be a good year – much better than years in the recent past – for Monarchs; at least in Northeastern Wisconsin.

The Monarch Waystation garden in the meadow adjacent to White Cedar Nature Center, off Bluff Road, in the park.

The Monarch Waystation garden in the meadow adjacent to White Cedar Nature Center, off Bluff Road, in the park.

Last year the garden in the nature center’s meadow was certified by the group Monarch Watch, as a Monarch Waystation, which means that efforts by park staff and volunteers to grow abundant Milkweed – essential for the caterpillar stage of the Monarch Butterfly life cycle – and plenty of native pollinator plants has been recognized. Kathleen Harris told me that when she came to the park 20 years ago that Milkweed was plentiful enough, but that there has been much less of it in recent years. She said this could probably be attributed to a number of factors, but she thinks a key one is that it was being choked out by invasive Knapweed.

Two Monarchs hanging from the stems of a Joe Pye Weed plant.

Two Monarchs hanging from the stems of a Joe Pye Weed plant

She also outlined for me some of the steps that have been taken to improve the meadow for Monarchs and all kinds of pollinators. She told me several times that she does not consider herself a “monarch expert;” the project, she said, did not begin with the goal of establishing a Monarch Waystation. But back in 2005, park staff recognized the need to combat the weeds and invasives, and restore a diversity of plant life.

A Monarch and Queen Anne's Lace, next to some of the essential Milkweed.

A Monarch and Queen Anne’s Lace, next to some of the essential Milkweed.

“A ‘prairie garden’ was our goal at that time,” said Kathleen. “It would be something with a great diversity of plants, and good for all pollinators.” In 2007, Boy Scout Troop #1039 from West DePere, became involved in creating the garden, too – helping to eradicate the problems, and donating new plants. Now that in fact it has become a certified Monarch Way station, she views it personally as something that “gives me a game plan; something that will help me keep it up and meet goals . . .without that it’s easy to lose your focus on one project and let other work take you away from it.”

As thoroughly delightful as I found Peninsula Park’s Monarch Waystation last week, I did find another welcome butterfly surprise, just walking down Main Street in Fish Creek today: a single Monarch playing in a curb-side garden, quite oblivious to all the foot and vehicle traffic sharing its space in the world. And here is that one:

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