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Emily Sampson experienced a Monarch migration in 2014 that changed her life and made her passionate about protecting the Monarch butterfly migration through the Swannanoa Valley. Monarch Butterflies are so threatened that their future literally depends on human actions.

“I was driving my daughter back to school from a dental appointment in Asheville,” Sampson said.  “It was on Oct. 3, 2014. I saw about 100 Monarch butterflies migrating through the Swannanoa Valley.  My daughter and I went to the disc golf course and watched the butterflies seemingly follow the interstate.  Now I know that they were following an ancient migratory path.

"I saw the area in Recreation Park (now Black Mountain Veterans Park) as a field of grass.   I thought what a great place that could be used for butterflies and to benefit other pollinators.  It would be a better place for people by beautifying the landscape, and add interest to the course.  It would be a way to improve the entire area.”

Sampson took her idea to Casey Conner, director of Black Mountain Recreation and Parks Department and he liked it.  Her idea for the Monarch butterflies became the Monarch Waystation Projects.  It includes a Monarch migration meadow at the disc golf course and a smaller site in the Flat Creek area.   The meadow has a lot of nectar plants blooming to feed the migrating butterflies.

“We planted more than 1,000 native nectar plants including milkweed, Joe Pye weed, perennial sunflowers, yellow coneflower, boneset, mountain mint, obedient plant, and goldenrod, switchgrass, little bluestem and river oat grass,” Sampson said.  “The town of Black Mountain purchased about half of the plants from Painters Greenhouse, and the greenhouse donated the rest. (Sampson is head grower at Painters Greenhouse). This project has been successful beyond all expectations, and it is only in its first year. The meadow at Black Mountain Veterans Park has butterflies and caterpillars all over it daily.”

Conner agreed that the Monarch Waystations Projects were great ideas and have been successful in a short time.

“Late fall/winter is when the waystations were planted,” Conner said.  “This is the first year for butterflies and caterpillars.  I have already seen quite a few down there.  Hopefully over the next few years this will continue to grow and become a favorite spot for butterflies.”

More information is available on the Monarch waystations of Black Mountain Facebook page.

The Monarch butterfly population was estimated to be at 57 million in 2015, a 90 percent decline from 1 billion prior to the late 1990s, according to the Xerces Society, an international, nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. The population numbers are determined annually by the number of butterflies found at the overwintering site in Mexico.  The steady decline over the past two decades is a result of habitat loss throughout its range from Canada to Mexico City.

In the U.S., the widespread use of the product Roundup to eliminate milkweed and other nectar plants across the country destroyed the Monarch’s food supply. Black Mountain's waystations are part of an international effort to plant milkweed, the host plant for the Monarch butterfly caterpillars, and to create pollinator habitats with native plants that provide nectar to adult Monarchs and many other species of bees and butterflies also in decline.

The original seeding, planting and weeding were done by about 25 volunteers which on two occasions included mayor Mike Sobol. Throughout the next two weeks more seeding, sowing and weeding will be done, and volunteers are needed (contact Sampson at emilysampson@gmail.com).

By creating Monarch waystations, people are contributing to Monarch butterfly conservation.  It takes major cooperative efforts to create, conserve and protect the Monarch butterfly’s habitats.  Gardeners can help the Monarch by planting milkweed and nectar plants in their personal gardens.  Sampson will be happy to advise gardeners on what plants are the best for the butterflies.

“The next 10 days are going to be exciting as the Monarch butterflies move the Valley,” Sampson said in last September.  “They have already been spotted and are on track. If you want to track the Monarch’s migration progress, go to learner.org/north/maps/monarchpeakfall2016 html.”

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