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Stewards of Nature: Mayfield planting a prairie to help monarch migration

When millions of monarch butterflies migrate between Canada and Mexico as part of their annual journey next year, they will have a place to rest their weary wings in rural Sycamore. 

Mayfield Congregational Church received a $750 grant from Abbey of the Art’s Earth Monastery Project to develop a way station for migratory monarchs.

Mayfield’s monarch way station will be filled with milkweed and nectar-rich flowers crucial for monarch reproduction and migration, which have been declining in the past decade.   

“Hopefully we can be an important part of re-establishing a very important piece of the whole monarch story,” said Mayfield’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell.

According to the University of Kansas educational group, Monarch Watch, milkweed and nectar-producing flowers are disappearing. The decline leaves monarchs with fewer places to lay their eggs and fuel up for their migration and has resulted in the lowest recorded amounts of monarchs reaching Mexico since record-keeping started in 1993. 

The World Wildlife Fund recorded monarchs covered 1.65 acres in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City this year, compared to 2.93 acres last year. At their peak in 1996, monarchs covered 44.5 acres.

Monarchs are measured by the area they cover because they bunch together on trees. 

The way station will be planted with shrubs and native prairie plants, especially milkweed, on a small L-shaped strip of land next to the parsonage beside the church at 28405 Church Road.

Brunell said planting will start as soon as the ground thaws. She anticipates it will take two to three years to fully establish the way station. 

“We are always aware of the land around us,” Brunell said. “This is another step in the life of a people that have always tried to listen.”

The monarch way station is part of the thread of justice and providing shelter and safety running through the church’s history. During the 19th century, Mayfield served as a stop on the underground railroad.

Brunell believes the project comes at a time when the church’s 130-member congregation contains a number of people with some level of environmental expertise, such as University of Illinois Extension Environmental and Energy Stewardship Educator Peggy Doty.

“We need to do our part as stewards to get the monarch population back,” Doty said. “To have the place that you count on for your spiritual well-being get behind it is incredible. They understand the spirituality of nature and the earth.”

Doty said the black and orange butterflies could stop at the Mayfield monarch way station at any point in their journey to or from Mexico, where they would decide to either lay their eggs or carry on. Most of the butterflies, which also are a Christian symbol of the resurrection, would arrive in mid-to-late-summer, she believes. 

The way station will serve not only the monarchs, but the members of the church and general public. Brunell would like the space to become a place for quiet meditation and education as well as a place to encourage way stations throughout DeKalb County. 

“I think we’re looking at sharing it with other peoples in terms of being a seed project where people might get inspiration or ideas, but also as being a place where people might come to see this use of the land this faith commitment,” Brunell said.

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