BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies make the 3,000-mile journey from the United States and Canada to the warmer climate of central Mexico.
Over the past two decades, however, it has become a perilous flight due to habitat loss from the widespread use of herbicides and deforestation, said Gateway science teacher Mike Dick.
In 2017, Dick spearheaded a partnership initiative with the Toledo Zoo to have an urban prairie installed on the grounds of the school. Part of Wild Toledo, a conservation program aimed at engaging the community in conservation initiatives, the 10,000-square-foot prairie prominently features milkweed, a plant necessary for the survival of monarch butterflies. This summer,, Dick learned that the prairie is a certified Monarch Waysta-tion, which means that it officially provides the resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.
“The prairie does a lot of things for our habitat, not only for our monarchs, but also for a number of birds and butterflies, and that’s why we are able to apply to Monarch Watch,” Dick said. “Basically, you need a certain amount of space, a sustainability plan and a certain number of flowering plants along with milkweed.”
In addition to milkweed, the prairie is home to several other plants, including the prairie pea pod, several species of goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, lupine, thistle and blazing stars. A dead tree in the middle of the prairie is home to a wood-boring bee nest, while a variety of birds and other animals enjoy other areas of the prairie.
“It’s grown in and next year, which is year three for the prairie, it should be fully established,” Dick said.
In addition to supporting monarchs and other wildlife, the prairie is also better for the environment, he said, because the root system is deep, it filters water and it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Gateway is among 16 schools in the Toledo area to team up with the Toledo Zoo to house a prairie; however, other schools in the district, including Fairfield, Fort Miami and Wayne Trail, have installed them. Dick often moves his lessons from the classroom to the prairie, where students tag and release monarchs, identify plants and animals, study soil and test water.
“There are a lot of standards that tie in to this little patch of prairie out here,” said Dick. “And besides that, it’s pretty cool.”