You may have noticed that monarch butterflies are not as abundant as they have been in the past. However, this change is much more drastic than one might realize. Did you know that the monarch butterfly population has declined by 27% from 2016 to 2017 and has declined by at least 80% since the mid-1990s?

We have been working to welcome monarchs back to West Michigan by planting waystations in our parks over the past few years. Waystations attract monarchs and offer them a safe spot to breed and feed in order to ensure they are strong enough to continue their migration south.

What is a monarch waystation?

A Monarch Waystation is an intentionally-managed garden that provides quality habitat for the struggling Monarch butterfly population and many other pollinators like bees, wasps, moths, and more. Here are the components of a monarch waystation:

  • Full sun exposure – Many plants that thrive in pollinator habitat should get 6 or more hours or full sunlight per day.
  • Milkweed – Monarch butterflies are specialized, they will only lay eggs on the leaf of a milkweed plant because Monarch caterpillars will only eat milkweed. Luckily, there are many types of milkweed available and native to our area.  Milkweed is also beneficial for many, many other species – we recommend planting at least two types in your waystation.
  • Nectar plants – Nectar is crucial to migrating adult monarchs and many other pollinators. We recommend a variety of nectar plants, some of our favorites include: liatris, asters, and goldenrod.
  • Shelter – This can be provided by simply planting your plants near one another versus spread far apart.

Create your own monarch waystation

You may have monarch habitat in your backyard or near your office or school! Visit Monarch Watch, a conservation organization that helps individuals, communities, organizations and businesses create official monarch waystations nationally. Their guidelines will help you get started. Registering your site helps track the efforts being made to bring back the monarch.

If you need help finding plants or more general information to get started on a waystation, we recommend Wild Ones as a resource. River City Wild Ones is the Grand Rapids chapter. We also encourage you to contact your local Conservation District as well. The Ottawa and Kent County Conservation Districts hosts native plant sales each spring and often in the fall.

Ottawa County Parks monarch waystation locations

Black River School student volunteers posing with their Adopt-a-Park waystation at Adams Street Landing

Success at Tunnel Park

The darling story of our waystation project has been Tunnel Park. When speaking with neighbors, they complained that they hadn’t seen monarchs at the park for years. After treating invasive bromegrass and spotted knapweed at the top of the dune, milkweed grew rapidly, as it had been waiting in the seedbank. Monarchs flourished in the restored habitat!

Before: Volunteers planting native plant plugs where invasive plants were treated

Before: Area after treatment of invasives with a few milkweed plugs.

After: Milkweed in bloom!

In an effort to encourage regional partners to create waystations on their property, we have launched an initiative called the Lake Michigan Monarch Highway. The highway exists to secure more habitat for monarchs along their migration route along the lakeshore. Volunteer intern Megan Fitzgerald spent a semester with us in 2017 developing the initiative and recruiting potential partners. Her presentation is below.

If you are interested in becoming part of the partnership, please contact us. We can connect you with an organization to get your waystation started.

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