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Blue Moon event spotlights monarchs

Trail habitat a peaceful place

Marlena Green and her grandparents, Bobbie Groth and Don Lawson, look at monarch butterflies in chrysalis form. The living display was part of the Blue Moon Event on Aug. 31.

Marlena Green and her grandparents, Bobbie Groth and Don Lawson, look at monarch butterflies in chrysalis form. The living display was part of the Blue Moon Event on Aug. 31. Photo By Jerry Luterman

Sept. 5, 2012

Monarch butterflies flew under a blue moon while music played and children flew kites.

The picturesque scene was sponsored by the Friends of the Monarch Trail, which works to preserve the trail and educate the community about the trail's history and environment. The event, called the Blue Moon Event, included kite-flying, food, guided tours and music by Irish folk band Ceol Cairde.

The Blue Moon Event was one of three events the group sponsors each year. They host a milkweed plant sale in the spring and a milkweed planting session in July. Milkweed plants are essential to the monarch as they are the sole form of nutrition for monarch caterpillars. The plant's toxic nature causes sickness when eaten, and the caterpillars and monarchs infuse the toxins into their bodies.

Barb Agnew, chairwoman and founder of the Friends of the Monarch Trail, said: "This is a pre-migration event and people can come out, hike the trail, discover where the monarchs roost and learn about what drives them through the area - the guided tours explain all of that. They can come back through the course of the migration season and know where to look."

The event was held at the Monarch Trail, an 11-acre nature preserve on the Milwaukee County Grounds.

Protecting the land

"This is the place where you can see both the sun set and the moon rise," said LuAnne Washburn, a volunteer with Friends of the Monarch trail. "The butterflies migrate through here on their way to Mexico and stop here for nectar and to fuel up for their long trek. They stop because of the geographic area, Underwood Parkway and the Menomoneee River Parkway converge, and the height of the area. It's the only open area with continuous land in Milwaukee County.

The Friends of the Monarch Trail do activities throughout the year to improve the park and preserve the park's habitat. They have a group called the Tuesday Teasel Taskforce which, until the park hired professionals, sought to remove the invasive teasel plant.

The park has since mowed most of the plant down, so the task force now seeks to plant nectar around sycamores to lessen any damage mowing has caused.

They also remove stones on the trail, take care of the kiosk and do maintenance on the signs.

"The teasels spread like wildfire. It was quite an undertaking. We work more on taking down the buckthorn and planning perennials. We take care of the trails," Washburn said.

The Friends of the Monarch Trail have been hosting events similar to the Blue Moon Event since their inception in 2007.

Dwindling spaces

Agnew said that she was concerned with the lack of space that monarchs can use in the park. The park, before the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District flood basins were created, had 250 acres that supported the milkweed plant.

That number has dropped throughout the years, with acreages of 155 in 2006, 100 in 2008 and 11 in 2011.

Agnew said: "This little jewel that we have in our 11-acre habitat area is precious. How the developments occur is critical to the survival of the 11 acres, and I'm just going to keep fighting for it. The more people who come out and enjoy and understand it, the more likely it is to survive."

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