- Associated Press - Sunday, May 1, 2016

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - It’s a small garden as public gardens go, but Sandy Sagalkin hopes it has a big impact on the public.

The Monarch Alliance, a group of people and organizations interested in the health of the monarch butterfly population, has planted a monarch waystation garden in a tiny park on the edge of a commercial development in Hagerstown.

This park, called Kiwanis Park because the local Kiwanis Club donated it to the city, is perched on the edge of Antietam Creek.

Sagalkin hopes the garden will inspire many local people in the area, including those in Frederick County, to plant monarch waystation gardens of their own. Cunningham Falls State Park, with the help of the Friends of Cunningham and Gambrill State Parks and FirstEnergy, has already begun a monarch waystation.

Monarch waystations are registered with Monarch Watch, a national organization dedicated to rebuilding the population of the colorful butterfly nationwide.

The Hagerstown waystation is set to be dedicated April 30 at a ceremony that will honor the opening of the park and the waystation.

Sagalkin, of Sharpsburg, leads birding tours at Antietam National Battlefield and other parks. He became aware that the population of monarch butterflies was in serious decline after visiting the winter home of the monarchs in Mexico in early 2014.

“We started an organization called the Monarch Alliance,” he said. The group’s aim is to educate local people about the importance of planting gardens that benefit the monarch butterfly - gardens brimming with coreopsis, Joe-pye weed, purple coneflower, black-eyed susan, goldenrod, ironweed and blazing star.

These perennials, and many more that provide nectar for the butterfly, are often found in meadows and wetlands, but they can flourish under the right conditions in home and commercial gardens.

The Monarch Alliance also wants to plant butterfly weed, and in the right areas, common milkweed. Both of these plants provide fresh milkweed for monarchs to lay their eggs on. The resulting caterpillars feed on the fresh milkweed.

It’s the dearth of fresh milkweed and nectar in parts of the U.S. that is partially the reason that the monarch butterfly population has dropped from a historical high of 1 billion two centuries ago to 35 million in 2014. The population had dropped off considerably in the last 20 years. “In the last decade, farmers have been using Roundup-ready corn, soybean and cotton seeds,” Sagalkin said. That’s meant less milkweed, which often grew in agricultural areas.

Nationally, there is an effort to reverse that, Sagalkin said. “Federal agencies are on guard to enhance the monarch habitat,” he said. “The federal government plans to plant 1 billion common milkweed plants.” The federal government is joining with Monarch Watch, Journey North, the Xerces Society, the National Wildlife Federation and other organizations that work on behalf of wildlife and habitat conservation, to undertake the effort.

That’s going to need a lot of local help. Sagalkin hopes Saturday’s event will kick-start many local gardens to incorporate nectar, and where there’s lots of room, milkweed. “We’re one part of a big puzzle,” he said. “There are about 12,000 registered monarch waystations. The big solution is an all-hands-on-deck approach of planting wherever open space will allow it.”

Sagalkin is fascinated by the journey of the monarchs, the only known migrating butterfly. Monarchs go through several generations during their migration northward before the last generation of the summer begins migrating south for the winter. That generation overwinters in Mexico, and in the spring, returns to Texas to continue breeding. Successive generations make their way northward. And some of them will find their way to the new monarch waystation in Hagerstown. “This will be a nice little gem,” Sagalkin said.


Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, https://www.fredericknewspost.com

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