As butterfly activists go, Milo Workman had to be the day’s most impressive.
The nine-year-old youngster was holding court amidst a swirl of activity at the recent Monarch Festival on a balmy, rainy September afternoon, sitting at a vendor’s table, and selling wares to raise money in the quest to help protect and promote monarch butterflies.
Already in its ninth year, and growing in popularity each time, the local Monarch Festival was held this year on September 8 inside the cavernous red barn at Eagle Marsh. Organizers expected roughly 1,500 people would attend. The grass-and-gravel parking lot behind the barn was nearly full just minutes after the festival’s noon start.
Put on by the Little River Wetland Project (LRWP) and sponsored by such businesses as General Motors, NIPSCO, OmniSource, and Whittle Consulting, the annual festival seeks to educate the public about the plight of the orange-and-brown pollinator while also seeking ways to keep it flourishing.
“We really started this as a celebration of monarch butterflies,” said Amy Silva, LWRP Executive Director. “And we have so many of them at Eagle Marsh, we just really wanted to bring awareness that they’re here and people can help by just planting milkweed.”
Milkweed is the butterflies’ favorite plant, the one it feeds on as a caterpillar to grow into the majestic orange-and-brown winged butterflies that are so familiar. Increasing urbanization and the loss of wetlands has led to less wild milkweed, and unfortunately, a steep decline in the numbers of monarchs.
Groups set up at tables in the barn for the festival included Purdue Fort Wayne, the Gardeners Club of Fort Wayne, an outdoor group called Hike It Baby, and local author Kylee Baumle, who was selling her latest book, “The Monarch: Saving Our Most Loved Butterfly.”
“I’ve been studying monarchs for 13 years,” Baumle said, “and I wanted a book that had all you wanted to know about these butterflies, so that’s why I wrote it,” she said.
“The biggest thing we can do,” she continued, “is to create awareness. And events like this help bring it to the forefront.”
In addition, Baumle said, helping monarchs is a task easily achievable by an individual. “There’s not a whole lot of areas where one person can make a difference,” she said, “but this is one of them.”
The event also featured the release of about 125 monarchs from tents behind the barn, each tagged with a tiny mark (about the size of a fingernail) attached to its wing that reports the butterfly’s sex and its origin.
This year’s festival also was the first time the event has been included in the local celebration known as “Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown,” which encourages local folks to visit Fort Wayne and Allen County attractions for free.
LWRP Director of Preserves and Programs, Betsy Yankowiak, said the inclusion definitely gave the festival a positive boost. “It just raises awareness of butterflies, and gives us a whole new audience,” Yankowiak said.
Monarchs migrate each year from northern areas of the United States to the southern forests of Mexico and California, and then return in the springtime. Their journey is about 2,000 to 3,000 miles each way.
Because they don’t weigh much more than a dead leaf, the butterflies use a combination of flight and air currents to make their way south. During their journey, the butterflies can travel as much as 100 miles in a day.
But for Workman, a fourth grader at Oakview Elementary, he said he likes to take part in the festival because he enjoys the monarch’s beauty.
Workman was also selling buttons, t-shirts ($12) and tote bags ($10) emblazoned with his own “Monarch Rescue Task Force” logo to help raise money for the butterfly. He was even working the crowd, handing out his own kelly-green business cards in an effort to further the cause.
“I just like how pretty they are,” Workman said, “one flew by my house one day, and I just liked how beautiful it was. “Now, I just like to raise them at my house and help them thrive.”