The monarch butterflies that arrive in Ashland next July know just where to rest their weary wings following their long migration from Mexico. It’s a place where the milkweed grows in abundance and provides ample nectar for weary travelers.
Helping to ensure those monarchs won't be disappointed once they complete their journey are kindergartners, first- and sixth-graders from John Muir School, who began working on expanding the butterfly waystation along Paradise Creek Friday as part of the Lomakatsi Restoration Project’s 10th annual Streamside Forest Recovery Week.
The waystation expansion is one of several projects local schools will take on over the next few days — it wraps up Thursday — as part of Lomakatsi’s Streamside Forest Recovery Week, which acts as a sort of annual kickoff for the Ashland-based non-profit’s Restoration Ecology Education Program.
“Some of these sites are adopted by entire schools,” Lomakatsi riparian project manager and education director Niki DelPizzo said, “and we’re also working on these sites to not only improve habitats for fish and wildlife and now monarchs and pollinators, but we’re also developing these sites as outdoor classrooms. So it’s a place for any teacher to come down and take their class and they can do ecology, they can do writing, they can do arts, they can do all sorts of field sessions related to subjects they learn in the classroom.”
Other schools participating are Willow Wind Community Learning Center, Ashland High School and Cascade Christian High School. The Middle Rogue Steelheaders, a nonprofit dedicated to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries and their watersheds in southwest Oregon, will also chip in to help maintain streamside forests in Medford along Bear Creek.
Last year, according to Lomakatsi, over 500 students worked alongside its staff to reestablish streamside forests and create pollinator habitat on Lomakatsi’s active restoration projects. They’ll be doing more of the same this year. At Paradise Creek, for example, students will be expanding the butterfly waystation by, among other things, planting milkweed, Oregon sunshine and hollyhock.
“The thing to keep in mind,” Lomakatsi Restoration Project program director Shane Jimerfield said, “is these project sites are long-term riparian restoration sites that Lomakatsi’s been working on for years and we’ve had various classes that have adopted these sites to help us maintain them and continuously plant and do work there to keep the habitat functioning and in good condition.”
The Paradise Creek restoration, for instance, began 18 years ago when students and Lomakatsi staff planted alder, cottonwood and ash trees. Today, those trees are about 40 feet tall.
The sites get plenty of use as outdoor classrooms, too. Cascade Christian High School students do restoration work at Bear Creek twice a month and also occasionally hold natural science classes on site.
DelPizzo said Willow Wind’s work on the waystation is crucial.
“Their habitat is threatened right now,” she said, “so there’s a big push to expand monarch butterfly habitat. The plants they rely on have been going away, either through development or through pesticides or herbicides. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service actually funded some of our monarch habitat projects, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sees it as important to restore monarch butterfly habitat.”
For most of the Lomakatsi’s educational offerings, crews will head to the site ahead of time and take care of most of the hard labor before the students arrive. But that doesn’t mean the students don’t get a lot done in a typical two-hour shift. In fact, according to DelPizzo, who’s been leading outdoor education classes for Lomakatsi for the last 10 years, the students make the most of their time.
“They’ll do some planting, or maybe some invasive plant removal, or building trails,” she said. “It’s amazing actually how much they can get done.
“They have a sense of ownership of the site. They work together as a team, they are land stewards and they feel a sense of pride being out there doing the work. They really work hard and sometimes they don’t want to leave.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.