In a story not unique to most events from 2020, last year’s Monarch Festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this year, the festival occurring for more than a decade is back and wants to put threatened butterflies in the spotlight. The Monarch Festival will take place Sept. 12 from noon until 5 p.m. at Eagle Marsh, 6801 Engle Road, Fort Wayne, and is part of the Be A Tourist In Your Own Hometown event. People will learn about the migration patterns of monarch butterflies and how to help them survive.
There is no cost to attend the event. Festivalgoers can park on Engle Road and walk to Eagle Marsh. Monarch-related vendors will also be in attendance.
Little River Wetlands Project Director of Preserves and Programs Betsy Yankowiak said she is excited to host this outdoor event.
“As folks enter Eagle Marsh, we will have things along our road back to our barn to do,” Yankowiak said. “We have a lot of fun, educational activities to learn about the monarch butterfly, about why butterflies are important.”
She explained why monarchs are so distinctive.
“Monarchs are so unique because the ones that live in the fall will fly all the way to Mexico over winter,” Yankowiak said. “Some fly over 2,000 miles to these mountains in Mexico. That is where they all gather together over winter. There are a dozen or so spots where they all gather. It’s really neat.”
Yankowiak explained that monarchs are on a list of concern because their populations are dropping rapidly. As part of the festival, she said, they teach the public how they can help.
Planting milkweed is one of the easiest ways people can assist.
“The monarch butterfly has one genus of plants they use, and that is milkweed,” Yankowiak said. “If there is no milkweed, there is nothing for monarchs to eat. Period.”
Female monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed, according to Yankowiak. When the eggs hatch, that monarch starts to eat that milkweed leaf and becomes a butterfly. Once monarch butterflies age into adulthood, they can eat more things such as some flowers. But the eggs are only laid on milkweed.
Because of this fact, festival organizers planted and grew milkweed to give as gifts to people who attend so they can grow it at home.
“We give away close to 1,000 free milkweed plants to our participants, one per person, every year so they can go plant milkweed in their own yards or places,” Yankowiak said. “Everyone can play a role in helping monarchs by planting milkweed.”
Allen County Parks Environmental Educator Jeff Ormiston will host a demonstration booth where he will be explaining more about this specific species. Yankowiak said he is a leading expert on the topic.
“He takes stickers, we call them monarch tags, and he puts them on the monarchs, and then we release the monarchs,” Yankowiak said. “Volunteers help him do this. The reason why we put stickers on monarchs is for a research study out of the University of Kansas. Those stickers help researchers track that butterfly to those places in Mexico.”
Each tag has a specific number, and Ormiston and his volunteers record it and send it to the researchers. When researchers see these numbers, they will know where the butterflies originated. This study helps track migration patterns so milkweed and other flowers can be planted along their travels to help keep them alive.
According to a news release about the event, Little River Wetlands Project is a nonprofit land trust and restores and protects wetlands in the watershed of the Little River, a tributary of the Wabash River. LRWP’s project area encompasses more than 140,000 acres in Allen and Huntington counties. The organization manages several preserves, including Eagle Marsh, the largest inland urban wetland restoration in the U.S.
Yankowiak said the mission of this organization is to help people learn and engage and see the beauty that is in the nature preserves in the community, and that will be encouraged at the festival.