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First-ever Iowa City Monarch Festival is Sunday

East Side Recycling Center hosts inaugural event from 1-2:30 p.m.

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IOWA CITY — The life cycle of the monarch butterfly is to be on display Sunday at the East Side Recycling Center in Iowa City.

The first Iowa City Monarch Festival — from 1-2:30 p.m. at 2401 Scott Boulevard SE — is part of the city’s “commitment to creating an environment that will allow monarchs to thrive and reproduce in our community,” said Brenda Nations, the city’s sustainability coordinator.

Visitors can stroll through gardens featuring several varieties of milkweed and colorful native wildflowers from which butterflies extract nourishing nectar.

They are likely to see caterpillars devouring milkweed leaves — their only source of food — as well as the jade green jewel-like chrysalises from which the distinctive butterflies emerge.

The transformation of the grounds surrounding the recycling center began in 2012 with the establishment of the Education Center, which provides information on best practices for maintaining a healthy environment with emphasis on recycling and developing landscapes that provide wildlife habitat while slowing the runoff of stormwater.

In the years since, the formerly weed-choked wasteland has been converted to gardens that are attractive to birds, insects and people.

Planting and maintaining the gardens at East Side has been a labor of love for maintenance worker Bryce Maren, who takes pride that the center’s biocells and rain gardens store and treat all the rain that falls on the facility’s roofs and parking lots.

“Good butterfly habitat can help reduce flooding and improve water quality,” he said.

The gardens, which include extensive plantings of five varieties of milkweed, are designed to bloom from May to October.

Maren, who does not consider himself an expert on monarch husbandry, has learned enough about the charismatic insect’s needs to release about 100 butterflies in each of the past two years, and he has some chrysalises available to give to festival attendees who want to observe the emergence of a butterfly.

Other festival activities include games, monarch-related photo opportunities and instruction on growing milkweed and monarchs at home.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton has signed the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge to help raise awareness about declining monarch populations, which are estimated to have fallen 90 percent in the past 20 years.

“I have long considered pollinators such as the monarch butterfly of vital importance to the health of our city and the world,” said Throgmorton, noting that the city incorporates biodiversity management strategies in several of its programs.

The mayor’s pledge signifies the city’s commitment to help rehabilitate the monarch population.

Besides the monarch-friendly gardens at East Side, the city also supports waystations that provide milkweed for monarchs at Weatherby, Hickory Hill, Napoleon and Hunter’s Run parks.

Nations said the city gave milkweed plants to residents earlier this year.

“More than 180 people came, and the milkweed was gone in five minutes,” she said.

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