dupage monarch project: communities protecting pollinators

A Four Minute Break from Winter

This year winter brought snow and a spell of bitter temperatures that kept us indoors planning gardens and dreaming of butterflies. Bridge the gap between February and May by spending four minutes with the glorious colors of flowers and butterflies filmed in DuPage parks and cities last summer.

Wheaton Garden Club Joins County Wide Effort to Save Monarch Butterflies

Butterflies need gardens in the same way gardens need pollinators, they rely on each other to survive.  The rapid and alarming decline of monarch butterflies has energized Wheaton Garden Club members to add healthy habitat to their landscaping and integrate pollinator conservation into their mission.  Wheaton Garden Club has also gone one step further by joining the DuPage Monarch Project as an Associate Member.

Wheaton Garden Club’s involvement in monarch conservation began in early 2017 when interested members formed a committee to determine the steps the club would undertake to help save the vanishing butterfly.  Two goals were established, planting 10 monarch waystations and asking Mayor Gresk, Wheaton’s mayor at that time, to sign a proclamation of support for monarchs.  The proclamation was signed in May 2017.

While gardeners were adding milkweed to their gardens, a series of educational initiatives at the Wheaton Public Library was launched. The club sponsored and created displays in 2017 and 2018, including providing the “Bee a Pollinator Champion” poster designed by Therese Davis, a DuPage Monarch Project volunteer.

Pollinators became the theme for the club’s annual flower show in 2019. The show, titled Pollinator Power, was a subtle reference  to “flower power,” the popular hippie slogan, cleverly linking the fate of flowers to pollinators.  Jane Kellenberger, a member of the Wheaton Garden Club and Nature Artists’ Guild of the Morton Arboretum, artistically reinforced the idea of the mutual benefits between pollinators and flowers by accurately referencing the colors and style of 1960’s art in the poster she designed for the show.

By the close of 2020, club members have planted ten monarch gardens and five are registered with Monarch Watch. 

The organizations leading the effort to save monarch butterflies from extinction have issued a call for “all hands on deck.”  Wheaton Garden Club has heard that call and stepped up to the challenge.

Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts Recognized for Outstanding Pollinator Protection Projects

The DuPage Monarch Project recognized the Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts for their outstanding commitments to the recovery of monarchs and pollinations at a virtual awards ceremony on January 19th. While many things came to a standstill during the corona virus pandemic, the Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts continued on with their mission of providing islands of nature where both people and pollinators find safe refuge from the challenges they’re facing.

Fox Valley Park District is the recipient of the Jane Foulser Habitat Award for the addition of over 19 acres of habitat during the past year.  The District has been developing additional pollinator habitat within the 548 acres classified and managed as natural areas since 2016 when they joined the DuPage Monarch Project.   As the evidence of pollinator decline grows and the critical role they play in ecological and human health becomes clear, Fox Valley Park District is to be commended for steadily increasing the amount and quality of suitable habitat available to bees, butterflies and the many species of pollinating insects.

Jeff Palmquist, Director of Planning, Research and Grants receiving the Jane Foulser Habitat Award on behalf of the Fox Valley Park District from Connie Schmidt, DuPage Monarch Project Board Member

“This award validates the commitment of the Fox Valley Park District and our staff to pollinator habitat. Expansion, enhancement and management of pollinator habitat remain a top priority of our Board of Commissioners. It directly supports our pillar of conservation and environmental stewardship and we appreciate the DuPage Monarch Project’s collaborative approach in addressing monarch decline,” said Jeff Palmquist, Director of Planning, Research and Grants for the Fox Valley Park District.

Naperville Park District is the recipient of the Pat Miller Community Engagement Award for their longstanding commitment to involving residents in the District’s natural areas development and enhancement.  While habitat projects are in the planning stage, residents are offered an opportunity to comment and provide input. Scouts, corporate, church and service groups regularly volunteer for weeding, seeding, planting and removing invasive species. In 2018 and 2019, volunteers participated in a Dandelion Pull, cosponsored by Midwest Grows Green, as part of the natural land maintenance approach used at Knoch Knolls Park.  The extensive community participation spreads awareness of the problems facing pollinators and provides ways for concerned residents to be directly involved in the solutions.  

Brad Wilson, Director of Recreation and Facilities receiving the Pat Miller Community Engagement Award on behalf of the Naperville Park District from Connie Schmidt, DuPage Monarch Project Board Member

“We thank the DuPage Monarch Project for this award which recognizes our efforts to not only increase monarch habitat but educate the public about this important issue. Each year we display monarch butterflies in our nature center, allowing visitors to view the stages of a monarch’s life. Since 2016 we have added 5 Monarch Waystations to our parks and hosted a Monarch Festival that was attended by 700 people. At the Naperville Park District, we are committed to taking care of the environment by expanding pollinator habitat and involving the community each step of the way,” said Angelique Harshman, Nature Center Manager at the Knoch Knolls Nature Center.

“DuPage Monarch Project is proud of the Fox Valley and Naperville Park Districts for integrating pollinator preservation into the vision for their parks,” said Lonnie Morris, Coordinator, DuPage Monarch Project. “Excellent progress is being made on achieving our shared vision of a pollinator friendly county.”

Watch the Awards Ceremony.

You’re Invited!

DuPage Monarch Project is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020 Jane Foulser Habitat and Pat Miller Community Engagement awards on Tuesday January 19th at 2:00 pm.  You are invited to join us in recognizing these outstanding achievements in increasing pollinator habitat and the community’s awareness of solutions for monarch decline.

Are you wondering why you’re being invited to share in celebrating these inspiring butterfly projects? It’s because you can make a difference in saving monarchs. You are part of the solution

In December, the US Fish and Wildlife Service responded to a request to list monarch butterflies as threatened due to a steady decrease in their number.  After six years of reviewing the research, it was determined monarchs are threatened but federal protection would not be granted at this time.  The USFWS decision means local conservation projects are even more critical to the survival of monarch butterflies. 

For now, protecting monarchs is up to us.

Volunteers planting for monarchs in Glendale Heights

Your landscaping can be part of the solution to monarch decline by adding milkweed and fall blooming asters and making small changes in maintenance practices like when areas are mowed and cleaned up in spring and fall. The Illinois Monarch Project ( has set a goal of 150 million new stems of milkweed by 2038.  Every new stem planted at home, or at a school, library or church garden helps IMP reach that goal.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed planted by the City of West Chicago

The cities, villages, park districts, garden clubs and churches participating in the DuPage Monarch Project are making progress on the shared vision of a monarch friendly county with habitat stretching from Wayne to Naperville and Bensenville to Darien.  Working together, the goal is within our reach.

Register for the Awards Ceremony at:

We encourage you to widely share the link with interested staff and volunteers.  Saving monarchs needs all hands-on deck, everyone is welcome to participate.

DuPage Monarch Project is a collaboration of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, River Prairie Group of the Illinois Sierra Club, The Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter, dedicated to the protection of monarch butterflies and pollinators.

Who Are Jane Foulser and Pat Miller?

On January 19th at 2:00 pm, DuPage Monarch Project will announce the recipients of the 2020 Jane Foulser Habitat and Pat Miller Community Engagement awards. Two park districts are being recognized for their outstanding achievements in monarch conservation. You’re invited to join us in honoring them for their important contribution to the recovery of monarch butterflies. (link to the remote event is forthcoming)

You might wonder about the two women whose legacy is being honored with the awards. Jane Foulser and Pat Miller are now retired from their volunteer work on behalf of monarchs but they built the foundation for monarch conservation that DuPage Monarch Project is continuing.

l to r Pat Miller and Jane Foulser

Monarch butterflies are a hot topic these days; everyone is talking about them.  They pop up in expected places like gatherings of environmentalists, but also casually among gardeners, teachers and school children.  When a conversation gets going, it doesn’t take long for someone to mention Pat Miller.  The long time monarch advocate made dozens of presentations throughout DuPage, appeared at the 2017 Children’s Monarch Fest sponsored by the Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition and for years guided the monarch tagging event at Cantigny.   An impressive string of credentials follows her name, including Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist, Master Gardener, and Master Naturalist.   She is the woman the Chicago Tribune called the “Queen of the Monarchs.”

It wasn’t always this way.  A fifteen years ago, monarchs were just pretty butterflies people remembered from their childhood or had once seen in the garden. The monarch movement came to DuPage in 2005 when Jane Foulser, a long time Sierra Club member and environmental activist visited a friend in Lawrence Kansas, one of the epicenters for monarch research and conservation, where she met Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch.  She learned of the threats facing the migrating butterflies and their dramatic decline. Taylor had just kicked off the Monarch Waystation program, a habitat replacement solution directed at gardeners.  Foulser, an accomplished gardener, quickly saw how easily gardens could be modified into monarch friendly oases if gardeners knew what to do.  Her experience as a Sierra Club activist had prepared her for taking this message to the community and she was eager to get started.  

When Foulser returned to Elmhurst, she enlisted long time friend Pat Miller to join her in taking the message to the community.  They began by modifying and registering their own gardens with Monarch Watch, the first in DuPage to be added to the registry, then the two monarch crusaders took to the speaking circuit with posters and power point in hand.   They believed ten local waystations with milkweed and nectar plants, especially the fall blooming species like asters and goldenrods that supply fuel for migration could be registered in the first year.  By 2006, nine more waystations had been added to the registry.  The goal had been reached and Miller had found a calling.

Twelve years into the Monarch Waystation program, Miller’s garden beautifully exemplified what her talks described as the solution to the declining number of monarchs, which threatens its ability to bounce back from extreme weather events and exposure to insecticides.  The front and back yards were a mix of milkweed and the more traditional flowers found in suburban gardens, harmoniously combined into several flowing perennial beds.

Becoming a monarch messenger was a natural for Miller. She grew up as an “outdoor kid” in central Illinois, directly experiencing nature and making discoveries on her own. Her fresh delivery and enthusiasm for talking about monarchs was fueled by a desire to pass along the wonder and joy of her childhood to a generation of kids spending less and less time outdoors.   Butterflies are a safe and engaging ambassador for the insects children are encountering less frequently in parks, preserves and their own yards.

“Maybe the single most important thing we can do for conservation in general,” writes Anurag Agrawal, author of Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, A Poisonous Plant and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, “is to give people an appreciation of nature.” When Miller passed around monarch eggs, caterpillars and the iconic orange and black butterfly to her audience while telling the story of a life cycle that includes an astonishing 3000 mile migration, she gave them a connection to the natural world. Suddenly, backyards were seen as habitat and gardeners came to understand how their gardens fit into the bigger picture, as a trail of resting places dotting a long and arduous journey. 

Her message has been heard.  What began with two waystations in DuPage County grew to 437 by the end of 2020.

Monarchs still need our help.  Monarch Joint Venture has put out a call for “all hands on deck” for creating the amount of habitat necessary for a population of butterflies large enough to weather normal annual gains and losses.  Local conservation efforts became even more essential after the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that monarch butterflies met the criteria for designation as a threatened species but delayed federal protection for several years.

Miller is confident monarch butterflies can be saved, one garden at a time.

 “We make choices every day,” said Miller,  “what we wear, what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to squish a bug.  We have so much power in our everyday choices.  Don’t ever forget how much power you have to change things.”

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