by Carl Feather

At 36, Kristy Belaney has found things most people spend their lives searching for: Purpose and passion.

Her purpose is to protect the web of life. Her passion is a strand of that web, the Monarch butterfly.

“I never get tired of it,” Belaney says of watching a Monarch emerge from a chrysalis. “It brings me joy. When you know what you are supposed to

Belaney, a Conneaut resident, last year approached Ashtabula County Metroparks about creating a butterfly garden at one of their properties. After looking at several options, she decided the Friends of the Conneaut Creek property on Blakeslee Road, in her home community, would be the best location. It includes a large meadow that provides excellent habitat. A small section was set aside for the garden and planted in native flowing plants that butterflies find irresistible.

She worked with Nodding Onion Gardens, owned by Beth and Marty Coyne of Lorain County, to select 15 species for the garden. Park commissioner Bob Best assisted with the ground preparation. Belaney and her husband Mark, along with her parents, Tim and Shirley Hennessey, planted the garden June 11, 2016. Belaney had a broken foot at the time.

“On the hottest day of the summer!” she says. “There is no (running) water here, so I had to bring gallon-jugs of water from home every day. I loved doing it, though; it made me happy, but it was tedious.”

Metroparks paid for the plants, and Nodding Onion donated several plants, as well. Thanks to abundant rainfall and Belaney’s doting, the garden is flourishing this summer and fulfilling its mission. During a morning visit in mid-July, Belaney found two caterpillars plus a Monarch egg in the garden. Because the caterpillars and eggs have so many natural predators, Belaney took them home, where they will complete the stages to becoming a butterfly in protective enclosures, ranging from shoe boxes to a giant mesh tent. Potted milkweed plants are provided, as well.

Belaney releases the butterflies within hours of their emergence from the chrysalis. In her first year of raising Monarchs, she released eight; 55 in the second year; and 88 in 2016.

“I’m hoping for 100 this year, that’s my goal,” she says.

She searches for the eggs and caterpillars on milkweed plants, the larvae’s food source of choice. Milkweed leaves contain a sap that is toxic to vertebrate herbivores, and while the Monarch larvae ingest the toxin, their system is designed to shift, or sequester, the poison in their exoskeletons and wings. This renders them toxic to many predators.

Nevertheless, only one in 100 of the larvae come to maturation in the wild. And there has been a 90 percent decline in their numbers. Factors include the loss of milkweed habitat. “We are losing 6,000 acres a day to development,” Belaney says.

She says homeowners  feel that they are helping the environment when they go to a big box store and plant “pretty” and “perfect” plants that resist insects, but in fact they are depriving habitat to that section of the web of life. Many of the plants sold for landscaping are exotics and do little to support native insect populations, and more importantly, the birds and other members of the web who feed upon them. A native oak tree can support 500 species of caterpillars; an ornamental ginkgo tree, only five.

“Are you (planting things) for beauty or for the good of the world?” she says.

While many people don’t understand Belaney’s micro-focused passion, she says it has huge implications for mankind. Those insects that she is so focused upon helping ultimately put food on our tables because of their pollination work.

“Our grocery stores would be empty if we did not have bats, birds, bees and butterflies that pollinate our plants,”

If her passion and purpose interest you, or if you are just curious about making your landscape more wildlife friendly, attend a free workshop, “Saving the Monarch Butterfly and Other Pollinators Through Responsible Native Gardening,” with Belaney starting at noon Aug. 14. The event will be held at the butterfly garden of the Conneaut Creek Metropark, 27 Blakeslee Road, Conneaut. Follow the signs south on Route 7 from Interstate 90 to South Ridge Road. Turn east (left) and look for park sign at dirt road to the right.

With a little education and thoughtful plantings, one person can help a more beautiful world emerge from the chrysalis of passion and purpose. 

Please bring a chair  to sit on;  registration is appreciated!  440.576.0717