Monarch Festival to tell butterfly’s story

Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for Little River Wetlands Project, stands with sweet Joe-Pye weed (taller plants) and goldenrod, examples of the successive flowering season at Eagle Marsh. (Garth Snow)


A relaxed visit to Monarch Festival at Eagle Marsh on Sept. 8 will offer a glimpse of the butterfly as it prepares for the fall migration. Closer observation will document the yearlong efforts of staff, volunteers and a wider scientific community to understand and protect the festival’s namesake.

Visitors will follow the narrow trail south from 3801 W. Engle Road to the barn deep in the wetlands. Hours are noon-5 p.m. Admission to the family-friendly event is free. Volunteers will direct drivers to free parking.

“Our goal for the Monarch Festival is to help people learn about these butterflies, have fun along the way, and understand how they can help in conserving their habitat,” Amy Silva, LRWP executive director, said in a statement announcing the event.

A whorled milkweed plant is just coming into flower at Eagle Marsh, weeks after other milkweed species opened for nectar. (Garth Snow)

Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs, said organizations and individuals regularly partner with LRWP to improve habitat for the marsh wildlife and improve the experience for visitors.

An Eagle Scout candidate built and donated about 10 benches just before this spring’s Urban Turtle Festival. A Venturing Scout built five of the seven shelves in the hoop house behind the barn. Someone helps with mowing and tractor repair. Others gather weekly June to September to count and record the numbers of monarch eggs and caterpillars on the more than 700 acres of the marsh. One group visits for a “bump up,” moving tiny plants to larger pots.

“Last week we participated in a United Way Day of Caring with 10 to 12 volunteers from Raytheon,” Yankowiak said. “One group helped (Preserves and Programs Steward Maraiah Russell) remove giant ragweed and non-native plants from the Towpath Trail on the north side of Engle Road. Another group went with me along Engle Road and we had two to three chainsaws running and we were cutting down invasive plants and other species under the power lines. We just needed to get that area cleaned out.”

The late boneset plant provides nectar for butterflies and other pollinators at Eagle Marsh. (Garth Snow)

She said the Fort Wayne TinCaps organization will visit to volunteer after the baseball season ends.

And just before the festival, from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, another “Volunbeering” bump up is planned at Hop River Brewing Company, 1515 N. Harrison St. “It’s for all ages, and you don’t even have to drink beer. You can just drink water or lemonade,” Yankowiak said. “All ages are allowed at Hop River. You can bring your family along. We thought it would be a fun way to bring the community together.”

The goal that evening will be to transplant 800 milkweed plants into larger containers, all to be given away at the Monarch Festival. Recipients are welcome to plant the milkweed at the preserve or take them home to plant.

These swamp milkweed growing near the Eagle Marsh barn produce more slender pods and leaves than does the common milkweed. Monarch butterflies lay eggs on both species. (Garth Snow)

The process helps to instill the importance of preserving milkweed, the only plant on which the monarch butterfly will lay its eggs.

Eagle Marsh works year-round to keep several species of milkweed available to the monarchs. Another focus is to plant and nurture the native plants that provide nectar to the adult butterflies throughout the season. As one plant fades, another will produce flowers to feed the many pollinators that swarm to the preserve.

“We have a really strong partnership with the Allen County Parks, which will work our Monarch Fest and run the tagging station,” Yankowiak said. “Jeff Ormiston will be bringing dozens of butterflies. We will have a lot of butterflies as well, and we will be tagging and releasing them that day.”

Those tags are collected after the migrating generation ends its life cycle in Mexico each year, and data is reported and analyzed. Monarch Watch, with the University of Kansas, mails tags to monarch helpers across the country as the migration season begins for that locality.

Monarch Festival highlights also will include:

• Displays of live monarchs at different stages of their life cycle, from caterpillars to adults

• Educational presentations, learning stations and hands-on activities for all ages

• Hikes on interpretive trails lined with tall native wildflowers to watch these iconic butterflies nectaring

• Farmers market, offering pollinator-friendly products such as local honey and native plants

• Local partners available to discuss projects happening locally to help native pollinators

• Young Urban Homesteaders offering locally grown, seasonal food for purchase

Read more about Little River Wetlands Project at

And, as evidence that the education project never ends, LRWP will hold a butterfly diversity program from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Eagle Marsh barn. Russ Voorhees will discuss the varieties of butterflies at the marsh and their value as pollinators.