Imagine starting a journey so long, so arduous, you won’t survive to see the end. It will take three or four generations of your family to reach your destination. Instinctually, those taking this journey will know where to go and how to get there. And not too many months later, it will start all over again.
That is the story of the monarch butterfly, the iconic bright orange and black insect that migrates from the northeastern United States and Canada down to Mexico in the fall, and back north again in the spring, traveling thousands of miles and experiencing three or four lifecycles to complete the trek.
“The monarch butterfly is an amazing story,” Bill Ebert said. “It’s such a fragile creature that can accomplish such an incredible journey.”
Ebert, the Kiwanis Club of Gloucester Twp-Blackwood president, is helping Gloucester Township do its part to aid the monarch butterfly which, according to the National Wildlife Federation, has seen a decline of 90 percent in its population over the last 20 years.
In early July, the Kiwanis Club, with help from Scouts BSA Troop 177B and 177G, broke ground on the township’s first butterfly garden at the Gloucester Township Police Department Family Resource Center on Little Gloucester Road. The garden will create a critical habitat for migrating monarchs, where the butterflies can stop and lay their eggs, eggs that will hatch to give way to the next generation of butterflies to continue the journey.
“There’s a whole lot of thought that goes into this,” Ebert said.
With help from the folks at Costello’s Nursery in Pennsville, which specializes in native plants, the new garden will ultimately be filled with swamp milkweed – food important to monarch caterpillars – and other beneficial plants. There will need to be a miniature ecological watershed created to give the milkweed the wet, swampy ground it needs. The butterflies need shade and also “puddling stations” – damp areas where the insects can hydrate. There will be rocks where butterflies can land and warm themselves. They’re trying to do as much as possible with native New Jersey species, Ebert said. Markers will be installed identifying the plants, and the township will be installing a permanent outdoor bulletin board.
An old red building on the property will be turned into a Monarch Learning Center, and the garden will be located nearby in the sunshine. The plan is to rehab the exterior of the building this summer and start landscaping in the fall, which will give the plants a chance to root.
“By spring we will hopefully be seeing results,” Ebert said.
Ebert, inspired to start the garden by his niece, Kristie Ebert, who has her own butterfly garden at home and is knowledgeable on all things monarch, was happy to gain the support of not just the Kiwanis members, but the GTPD, Scouts BSA and Gloucester Township Mayor David Mayer, too.
In fact, with help from Mayer and the township, Ebert is hoping to get on the map – literally – with the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, a commitment to create a habitat for the monarch butterfly and to educate the community on how they can aid in the insect’s plight.
The pledge includes a number of actions that must be undertaken, such as issuing a proclamation to raise awareness and adopting pesticide practices not harmful to pollinators. The number of actions taken determines the municipality’s ranking with NFW – Monarch Champion (completing all 24 actions), Leadership Circle (completing eight to 23 actions) and Signatories (completing three to seven actions). The pledge will also put the Gloucester Township garden on the NWF map, giving it “some legitimacy as well,” Ebert said.
Ebert hopes Gloucester Township will join the ranks of the Leadership Circle, of which there are only three others in the greater Philadelphia Region – Philadelphia, Middle Township in Cape May County, and Roosevelt in Monmouth County.
“It’s a bigger commitment,” Ebert said.
Ebert was born and raised in Gloucester Township, growing up when much of the area was farmland. He remembers the monarch butterflies migrating through the area. He remembers kids playing outside much of the time.
“There was a much closer connection to nature,” he said. “In New Jersey especially, we’re losing a lot of our native ecosystem here, and with that you’re going to be losing species.”
The education portion of this project is important to Ebert, a retired history teacher from Timber Creek High School. He hopes some who visit will bring home literature from the Monarch Learning Center and instill some of the monarch-friendly practices at home.
“That’s really the hope. This,” Ebert said, gesturing to the future home of the butterfly garden, “isn’t going to change the course of history.”
Of course, with its aim to educate and inspire those who visit, it just might.
To learn more about the Kiwanis Club of Gloucester Twp-Blackwood, visit www.gloucestertwpkiwanis.org. To learn more about the plight of the monarch butterfly, including the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, visit www.nfw.org.