Kildeer Girl Scout creates public garden devoted to butterflies
The nearly 50 acres of the Reed Turner Woodlands in Long Grove feature a multitude of wildflowers and native grasses, not to mention more than 100 varieties of birds.
But this weekend, the nature preserve will add another display: a butterfly garden.
Thanks to the leadership of Erin McDermott, 17, of Kildeer, who is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award, the northern quadrant of the woodlands -- owned by the Long Grove Park District -- was certified recently as a Monarch way station.
Park officials are hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening of the new butterfly garden at 1 p.m. Saturday. The afternoon will feature a variety of educational events, including a presentation from McDermott about her conservation efforts.
She will describe the coneflowers, milkweed and black-eyed Susans that were planted, which will serve as host plants and provide nectar for the monarchs for years to come.
The Girl Scout Gold Award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, and one that only 5 percent of active Girl Scouts achieve. According to Girl Scout guidelines, a Gold Award project must demonstrate extraordinary leadership through sustainable and measurable "Take Action" projects.
McDermott will be a senior this year at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. She says she fondly remembers celebrating her birthday each year with her grandmother, who would come in from out of town and together they would plant a "birthday garden."
"This annual tradition gave me a love of gardening," she says. "I knew I wanted to plant some type of garden for my project."
Jane Wittig serves as president of the Long Grove Park District and most days she spends in the preserve, supervising the restoration of the woodlands and the clearing of nonnative and invasive species.
When McDermott approached her about completing her Gold Award project there, Wittig was thrilled.
"I'm just so pleased Erin selected our location. It seems like a natural fit." Wittig says. "I've worked with lots of Eagle Scouts before, but she is my first Girl Scout."
McDermott worked with Wittig and Sarah Schultz, a steward at the preserve, to identify host plants for the monarchs. She also helped to clear out the nonnative species to restore its original life as a prairie.
"The whole project was an educational experience," says McDermott, who plays lacrosse at St. Viator, while also serving on Student Council and in the National Art Honor Society. "I had to learn the names of all the plants and be able to identify each species."
She also learned about the fascinating migration of the monarchs and of the great need for more way stations, which have declined with increase herbicide use.
Much of her findings will be documented in educational materials on Saturday, and they represent an extension of the mission of the Reed Turner Woodlands, itself, Wittig says, with her drive to sustain wildlife and educate people about the process.
"We think it's a great educational tool," Wittig says of the butterfly garden, "and we hope it brings more people to our beautiful place."