Attention all West Chicago butterfly lovers, and there are many. Two new public gardens are being designed and installed through a collaboration between the West Chicago Park District, the City of West Chicago, and resident and Master Naturalist Judith Horsley, who applied and received a grant on the Park District’s behalf from the North American Monarch Institute (NAMI) in Madison, Wisconsin.
The gardens will be located at Reed-Keppler Park, 201 W National Street and Don Earley Park, 840 E. Washington Street. The Don Earley Park Monarch garden will serve as a “laboratory” for citizen-scientist involvement and as a potential site for a Monarch festival, once State guidelines for permit. Community involvement with planting the garden was part of the proposal, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic was not possible and Park District staff have undertaken the job of planting.
“I am delighted that this project is happening in our community, as we are committed to Monarch education and conservation,” said Mayor Ruben Pineda, who in 2017 signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. The Pledge kick-started a movement in West Chicago and led to 2019 being designated The Year of the Butterfly, recognized by America in Bloom as the best pollinator program among its national membership.
The gardens have been in the planning stages since late summer 2019, when Horsley returned from a three-day course at the North American Monarch Institute (NAMI) in Madison, Wisconsin sponsored by the partnership between the United States Forest Service International Programs, the Monarch Joint Venture, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum on Monarch and Science Inquiry Learning.
The purpose of the sessions was to further an understanding of the use of native plants and the importance of pollinators, and to learn how to help facilitate projects in and around the City of West Chicago. Also attending were three teachers from West Chicago School District 33.
One of the components of the course was to begin building a proposal for a community project that would potentially receive funding from NAMI. Judi took on the project of a teaching garden for children between the grades K – 12, with great enthusiasm, recruiting the assistance of the City of West Chicago and the West Chicago Park District.
As the West Chicago Park District offers summer camps from pre-school through 9th grade, as well as before and after school programs for elementary children, the educational component was a natural fit as various elements of the Monarch curriculum could be added to these programs on an age appropriate level. A seasonal program for adults is also planned.
Equally enthusiastic was the response from the West Chicago Park District and the City, which facilitated the meetings and gave the gardens their wings. Literally. Superintendent of Parks, Michael Gasparini came up with the idea of forming the gardens in the shape of large butterflies. Working closely with Horsley, a native plant list was created which ensures blooming from spring through fall. Some of the plants that will be included at Don Earley Park are Echinacea Sombrero Flaming Orange Cone Flower, Rudbeckia Little Goldstar and Tuber "Hello Yellow" Milkweed. At Reed-Keppler, plants will include Prairie Winds Apache Rose Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Apache Rose’), Oligoneuron rigidum Stiff Goldenrod, Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow Milkweed’, and Baptisia australis
“This project was a labor of love for me and the West Chicago Park District", said Gasparini. "The gardens will make outstanding additions to both parks that the entire community will enjoy for years to come.”
Everyone associated with the project hopes that the butterfly gardens will become a model program for all of DuPage County through its promotion by the DuPage Monarch Project upon completion of installation and curriculum additions for youth and adults.
“Either volunteer Master Naturalists or Master Gardeners could teach these programs,” Horsley said. “Programs to conserve the Monarch butterfly have potential to create community engagement with every citizen of West Chicago.”