Volunteers gather to plant butterfly/pollinator waystation in St. Albans City Park
Attention, monarch butterflies: on your migration north from Mexico, you might want to make a pit stop at St. Albans City Park.
There, you’ll find an irresistible mix of milkweed and other plants to extend your and other pollinators’ lifecycles, and you’ll make some eighth-grade science students at nearby McKinley Middle School very happy in the process.
On Saturday, April 8, volunteers gathered at City Park to install a monarch butterfly garden/waystation. It’s a project spearheaded by the McKinley Middle School students, under the direction of science teacher Stephanie Helman and volunteer Debbie Keener.
The project grew out of the students’ participation in a program called “Define STEM.”
“The kids put together some cross-curriculum projects, and one of them happened to be a pollinator garden,” Helman said. “We stepped up from doing everything virtually to doing a real-life, relevant program.”
The entire eighth-grade science class at McKinley Middle has worked on the project.
“All the kids have worked on it in class; they designed the garden, brochures and posters,” Helman said.
Dubbed a butterfly garden “waystation,” the site near the City Park ballfields also has a wooden kiosk, where there will be information posted about the importance of monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
“Monarch migration has declined greatly in the last 10 years,” she said.
Helman said her students learned about other pollinators, including bees and bats.
“They will eventually build bat boxes.”
Through a series of community connections, the students were able to have their butterfly garden in City Park. The original plan was to install the garden on school grounds.
“But that wasn’t working well,” Helman said.
Working with Keener and St. Albans Parks & Recreation Superintendent Kevin Pennington, the class was able to place the garden in the park. The site includes a wetlands area, where cattails are growing.
“We wanted to keep that natural wetlands so that we would have the cattails. This summer we’ll get a shipment of milkweed, because the monarchs have to have the milkweed to lay their eggs on.”
There was no shortage of adult volunteers on Saturday, including members of the St. Albans Garden Club. Helman said many of her eighth-grade workers couldn’t pitch in that day, because of a major track meet in the northern part of the state. Many students also had soccer match commitments.
Keener, who spearheaded the annual Walk On the Wild Side wildflower hike the same day, switched hats and headed down to the butterfly garden afterward to lend a hand and to offer her expertise. Keener is studying to become a master naturalist.
“This is another labor of love, like the (wildflower) hikes. We know that the monarch population is declining, and I thought this would be a perfect place to put the very first monarch waystation in St. Albans,” Keener said.
Once the various plants get established, the students will apply to get the garden designated as an official monarch waystation through the Monarch Watch organization. Monarch Watch is a cooperative network of students, teachers, volunteers and researchers dedicated to the study of the monarch butterfly.
“We’ll be gathering real-life data and reporting to an international database,” Helman said.
Keener said the St. Albans Garden Club and Green’s Feed and Seed in Charleston supplied many of the plants for the garden.
Also on hand Saturday was Laura Miller of Cross Lanes, an entemologist with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. Miller was there giving presentations about various pollinators, including monarch butterflies, to groups taking the wildflower hikes. Miller also pitched in to get some plants in the ground at the butterfly waystation.
“When you attract monarch butterflies, you will be attracting, of course, a lot of other pollinators, which is also very important,” Miller said.
A key plant in the monarch waystation is milkweed, and Miller said it should do well, because of the wetland component. The monarch caterpillar will only feed on milkweed, Miller said.
“If it doesn’t have milkweed, it will just starve to death,” she said. “There are species of milkweed that grow well in kind of a wetland. It’s very nice to have a body of water (at the waystation), because that’s important for any insect,” Miller said.
Miller said monarch butterflies are heading north now from Mexico.
“They’ve already left Mexico; at last report, they’ve been seen already on the way to north of Texas. They’re actually getting closer here because winter has not been that particularly cold, so they just keep on flying north.”