Monona Butterfly Garden and Trail celebrates 15 years of educating, beautifying community

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For 15 years, the Monona Butterfly Garden and Trail has given local residents the opportunity to exercise and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. Area pollinators, like bees and butterflies, enjoy the flowers, too. (Photos by Jim Langhus)

The 15th anniversary of the Butterfly Garden and Trail will be celebrated with an open house Saturday morning, July 18.

“We’ve had wonderful help, with people giving money, time, ideas and plants,” said Monona Butterfly Garden and Trail volunteer Shirley Seitz, calling it a true community endeavor.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Fifteen years ago, the site that is now home to the Butterfly Garden and Trail, on West Davis Street, in Monona, wasn’t filled with a brightly-colored array of flowers and butterflies. Rather, it featured street drainage along with dangers like an exposed sewer and a phone line that was uncovered in four places, collecting refuse.

“It was a dumping ground,” said Butterfly Garden and Trail volunteer Shirley Seitz. “It was a place you told kids to stay away from.”

It was also the perfect place to re-vamp. When the community was looking for an Earth Year 2000 project, the site was selected, as monarch butterflies were often tagged there, added volunteer Jim Langhus.

By 2003—several grants (including a large REAP grant) and many volunteer hours and monetary and land donations later—the garden and first leg of the trail were created. The memorial garden and remainder of the trail took shape a few years later.

“Now it’s a mile,” said volunteer Pat Martin of the trail, which stretches to Garden View Senior Community. 

That’s length enough “to get something accomplished,” noted Seitz.

Aside from the REAP grant, other grants from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation and Clayton County Foundation for the Future, as well as contributions from the Mae Ruesser community betterment trust, have aided the Monona Butterfly Garden and Trail. Individual cash donations in memory or honor of loved ones or contributions through the Hay Days pancake breakfast fundraiser help with upkeep, as does an endowment fund, set up through the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

Community members contributed their time and skills over the years as well, including Larry Riveland, who helped plan the landscaping. Others regularly help mow and clean up debris and garbage. Countless people weed and maintain the plants. The city crew also responds promptly when called upon for assistance.

“We can’t possibly acknowledge everyone because there are so many unknowns. People go through and do things we don’t know about,” Langhus said.

That’s especially the case with weeding, he added, recalling a recent visit, when he saw a whole family helping out.

“The kids each had their own bags,” he said.

Seitz said, in the beginning, eight to 10 groups laid out the plots in the garden, to plant and maintain. While some of those original groups and individuals are no longer involved, there are still families, organizations and groups of friends who help throughout the year, she said.

“There are two to 30 people at different times,” Seitz said, noting that the Monona Jr. Feeders 4-H Club is an active helper.

The MFL MarMac School District is as well. The FFA built the foot bridge and different classes volunteer their time, most notably the third grade, on Earth Day.

“For 45 minutes, they just go, go, go,” Martin said. “It’s so important.”

It helps the students realize it’s important to keep the Butterfly Garden and Trail cleaned up, mentioned another volunteer, Carol Goettler. They can take pride in their work and feel a sense of ownership, she added.

“We’ve had wonderful help, with people giving money, time, ideas and plants,” Seitz said, calling it a true community endeavor.

The community, in turn, takes advantage of all the Butterfly Garden and Trail has to offer, enjoying the opportunity to exercise and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors.

Langhus said he recently saw five different people walking their dogs at one time. Seitz agreed it’s also used frequently, estimating that as many as 100 people utilize the area some days.

Area pollinators, like bees and butterflies, love the flowers, too, as many of their favorite plants have become few and far between. Today, Langhus said, so many people consider flowers weeds, spraying those that pop up in fields, yards and roadside ditches. Milkweed is no longer a popular garden plant.

“Monarchs are the poster child, but it’s not just a monarch problem,” he said, explaining that there are hundreds of bees and other pollinators who rely on flowers to survive. “If there are not enough flowers in the summer, they use up their store. If there’s no food, they die out.”

That has a significant effect on the foods humans eat, as well, Langhus said.

“If you look at the produce section at the grocery store, you’ll see only 10 percent of what’s there now without pollinators,” he stated. “We need to get back to allowing flowers to bloom.”

Goettler said the Butterfly Garden and Trail is educational for the community, as it helps people realize the importance of habitat conservation for these pollinators.

“It shows there are things you can do to help,” Seitz added.

While the group of volunteers that helps with the Monona Butterfly Garden and Trail is appreciative of the aid received over the years, Martin said more is always welcome.

“We’d like a few more younger volunteers,” she said. “We’re thinking of the future. This is such a nice asset to the community.”

In order to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Monona Butterfly Garden and Trail, an open house will be held Saturday morning, July 18, beginning with a 5K run/walk at 8 a.m. Registration will begin at 7:15 a.m. and there is a small entry fee. After the 5K, there will be a variety of activities, including the breaking of butterfly piñatas hourly from 9 to 11 a.m., as well as sidewalk chalk drawing, offerings of butterfly tattoos and stickers and a photo scavenger hunt. Door prize drawings will be held every 15 minutes and food and drink will be available. Goettler, who is a master gardener, will be on-site to answer questions as well.

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