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Susquehanna Life

Our Natural World: Roll Out the Monarch Red Carpet

Jun 06, 2016 05:12PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

By Erica L. Shames


Julia Marano, a 35-year veteran of the conservation and natural resource field, became alarmed upon learning the monarch butterfly population has dropped from 1 billion to less than 100 million in the last 20 years.

“East of the Mississippi we rely on natural pollinators like the monarch butterfly for our food supply,” Marano said. “If the monarch is going down, a lot of our other pollinators also are in danger. We need to become more aware.”

Research into monarch-focused organizations revealed a missing piece. “Research, collaborations and monitoring are all occurring,” noted Marano, “but no one is doing a public campaign around the monarch—and no one really has engaged business.”

Monarch Migration Map

A brief review of the monarch’s migratory patterns yielded an interesting correlation. One of the East Coast migratory corridors roughly follows Route 11, coming down from New York, through Pennsylvania, and into the South.

“What if we engage the travel and tourism industry along Route 11 to plant milkweed and, in effect, roll out the monarch red carpet?” Marano wondered. The red carpet refers to the color of milkweed family plants, which range in color from orange and red to violet.

The experiment is underway

Marano first reached out to Andrew Miller, executive director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau. “This is a win/win for everyone,” said Miller. “Who doesn’t like butterflies and what they symbolize – rebirth and change? If planting a small garden can help support their population, why wouldn’t someone do it?”

From there Marano engaged the PA Landscape and Nursery Association. “I needed their help to design and plant the milkweed gardens for both the lodging and travel and tourism partners,” she said

Other partners have stepped up, including the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. “

Scarlet Milkweed

“Patches of milkweed—500 miles in Pennsylvania alone—of swamp milkweed will be planted along the Susquehanna River, with help from the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership,” said Marano. “And milkweed will adorn our state parks and more.”

“This promotion presents many opportunities,” added Miller. “I can envision a promotion by the Susquehanna Valley Visitors targeting eco-tourists. Imagine driving along the beautiful Susquehanna River and seeing thousands of Monarch butterflies. If the region becomes known for the protection and support of the Monarch migration, I can see future Monarch Festivals, Monarch Wines made by our local wineries and even Monarch Red Ales found in our local breweries in support of the Roll Out the Monarch Red Carpet campaign.”

Sustainably made welcome and car mats, adorned with a colorful monarch butterfly illustration, will be sold at Country Cupboard, Lewisburg, and Weis Markets stores in the Greater Susquehanna Valley. A portion of the funds will support the campaign.

“As part of its partnership, Weis Markets donated $1000, gave away milkweed seeds on Earth Day and held a milkweed planting event with kids,” noted Patti Olenick, ISSP-SA, sustainability manager, Weis Markets. 

The program officially kicked off in May at Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, which planted milkweed gardens at the visitors bureau, Best Western Plus, Country Cupboard Inn and Country Inn and Suites. Other early partners include Ard’s Farm, Copper Beech B&B, Owens Farmstay, Milton State Park, Susquehanna and Shikellamy state parks, and Sunbury Airport and Campground.

“This is a great opportunity for businesses, families, farmers and individuals who want to protect precious and endangered species,” said Miller. “We want to be a good neighbor, stakeholder and caretaker of the Susquehanna River Valley. I’m thrilled to add the Monarch butterflies to our hospitality outreach.”   

Marano chose to kick-off the program in Lewisburg due to its strategic location at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the north-south midway point of Route 11. The red carpet will be rolled out through the rest of Pennsylvania as travel, tourism and lodging partners plant milkweed gardens through July. The impact on the monarch population will be tracked and monitored by Monarch Watch, a nonprofit educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas focused on the habitat and fall migration of the monarch butterfly.

“Once Pennsylvania is done, we’ll go up to New York, down through Virginia and on through Kentucky and Tennessee,” Marano notes, referencing the complete Route 11 corridor. After that?

“We’ll take the program to the Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of federal and state agencies, NGOs and academic programs working together to support and coordinate efforts to protect the monarch migration across the country, show them how effective it’s been here and partner with them to take the program nationwide.”

How can you help?

Monarch butterflies resting on milkweed during their migration

Attract butterflies by planting a butterfly-friendly garden that includes the types of plants required by butterfly larvae. Butterfly-friendly plants produce clusters of brightly colored sweet-smelling flowers and include asters, daisies, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, lantana, marigolds, milkweed, purple coneflowers and zinnias. 

More information is at

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