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RIVER HILLS - River Hills officials want to bring attention to the declining Monarch butterfly population by creating butterfly demonstration gardens at River Hills Village Hall and in the median on Good Hope Road.

The declining Monarch butterfly population is evident in the mountaintops of Mexico's state of Michoacan. Every fall, the fifth generation of Monarch butterflies travel 2,000 miles from eastern North America to Michoacan, where they huddle on tree tops through the winter. When spring arrives, they come back to life, mate and journey north again.

The population of the Monarchs in Michoacan has dropped about 95 percent compared to 20 years ago, when more than a billion Monarchs would migrate to Mexico from the Midwest every year. That number has since declined to 60 million, due mainly to habitat loss and the destruction of their one critical plant, milkweed.

River Hills resident Peter Thornquist recently visited the mountaintops of Michoacan and witnessed more than 50 million Monarchs clinging to the trees of the forest.

Thornquist returned from his trip to Michoacan so inspired that he bought 700 milkweed plugs to plant on his property on the Good Hope Island on the Milwaukee River. 

Thornquist is a member of the River Hills Committee on the Environment, which requested the River Hills Village Board raise awareness of the Monarch's plight and develop Monarch butterfly gardens.

The village board agreed to plant milkweed and nectar plants in two butterfly demonstration gardens: one on the ground of River Hills Village Hall and one in the median strip on Good Hope Island

Good Hope Island is an island in the Milwaukee River intersected by Good Hope Road. The butterfly garden will be right in front of the sign branding River Hills as an "environmentally aware community."

The garden at village hall would consist of an oval of brightly colored nectar flowers that would attract butterflies and other pollinators. A larger oval of milkweed plants would be planted further away from the building. The project would be submitted to Monarch Watch as a "Monarch Waystation."

Numerous median strips across America are being transformed into Monarch butterfly gardens, and despite what one might think, studies show the butterflies are rarely hit by cars. The Good Hope Island median strip would featue a small oval of brightly-colored nectar flowers and a larger oval of milkweed plants.

Both proposed gardens would be supervised by Wendy Walcott, member emeritus of the committee for the environment and the former director of land stewardship at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. Funding for the plantings would be sought through the River Hills Foundation and other sources.

In addition to creating butterfly demonstration gardens, River Hills Village President Steve Anderson on May 9 signed the Mayors' Monarch Pledge. Hundreds of communities around the country have taken the Mayors' Monarch Pledge, including Shorewood, Milwaukee and four other Wisconsin communities.

The village board also plans to incorporate Monarch conservation education into the village's annual International Migratory Bird Day/Arbor Day festivities on Saturday, Sept. 9.

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