Each way station includes a mix of milkweed, the plants monarchs use for breeding, and nectar plants to nourish the young caterpillars when they hatch, Hamilton said.
The goal for the campaign was first intended to symbolically match the year: “We wanted to get at least 2,013 milkweed plants out there,” Hamilton said. So far, almost 2,500 have been planted across the county.
The campaign made donations of milkweed plants to 20 Loudoun public schools. The schools then conducted their own fundraisers to buy corresponding nectar plants, such as goldenrods and asters, Hamilton said.
At this point in the campaign, which will continue into early fall, when Loudoun residents who have helped raise caterpillars will come together to release the adult butterflies at local parks, the organization is focused on encouraging families to plant way stations and adopt the caterpillars, Hamilton said.
The first migrating butterflies arrived in Loudoun a week or two ago, she said, and are now laying their eggs. The adults will live for six to eight weeks, and their eggs will take about a month to develop into adult butterflies, she said.
“The end of our season here in Loudoun is about October 10,” she said, after which the new generation of insects will begin their long trek south. At the end of October, Hamilton said, the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy plans to host a large celebration to conclude the campaign, “around the time that our monarchs will be arriving back in Mexico.”
And the group plans to launch the campaign again next year. The goal is to have the campaign continue and, the conservancy hopes, spread to neighboring areas of Virginia.
“When I first started this, I did get some questions from people saying, ‘What kind of difference do you think you can make?’ But it’s the idea of raindrops to puddles to rivers to oceans,” she said. “My garden is just a raindrop. But if I can encourage other people to do it too, then that becomes the puddle, and then the river, and it leads to this greater movement.”
People in Loudoun might not be able to solve the problem of herbicide sprays or illegal logging, she said, but there’s something that can be done about the loss of habitats because of development.
“That’s a suburban issue,” she said. “It’s one we can all solve here in our back yards. And if we all do it, then we can make a difference.”