Pollinators in the park

Published 12:35 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

By Akilah Frye

Staff writer

There is a loss of habitat for the monarch butterfly, which is now being considered for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List. 

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In observance of Pollinator Week, which runs June 19-25, some Smithfield residents are continuing their advocacy that began when monarch butterflies and a milkweed meadow were put in at Windsor Castle Park in 2018. 

Smithfield resident Ruth Meredith, Smithfield Middle School teacher Ellen Peterson and Paul Anderson, an Eagle Scout from Troop 7, made efforts to increase the milkweed forage available to the monarchs in Smithfield. In the fall of 2017, the seventh-grade classes of Smithfield Middle School began their school year with a tagged monarch butterfly release to send the migrating monarchs down to Mexico. The students were able to study the life cycle of the monarch along with habitat needs. 

During this same educational period, efforts were underway with the Town of Smithfield to obtain permission to put in a milkweed meadow near the kayak launch of Windsor Castle Park. Students participated in obtaining permission from the Town Council, and plans were made by Meredith and Anderson for the meadow. Once they gained permission, sod in the area was dug up and various species of milkweed plants were planted.

The current issue is that the milkweed is big and stout, causing a public misunderstanding of the meadow’s purpose and repeated mowing by the Parks and Recreation Department, Meredith said. “Mowing the milkweed once or twice a year is acceptable, allows the common milkweed to regrow and provides tender leaves for the new caterpillars to munch on. Continuous mowing each month doesn’t allow the caterpillars to mature, defeating the purpose of the milkweed meadow,” said Meredith. 

Meredith spoke with Amy Musick-Novak, Director of Smithfield Parks and Recreation, who agreed “to leave the milkweed meadow at its current location at Windsor Castle Park and to reduce the amount of mowing to twice a year.”

“We will add a large permanent sign near the walking path so visitors will have a better understanding of why the tall milkweed plants are there and not being mowed down,” Meredith said.

There is still a need for public awareness of the importance of milkweed. 

“We still do need help in changing public perception and the importance of pesticide-free habitat for the monarch butterflies and their caterpillars,” Meredith said.