A Return to Volunteering: Monarchs @ Rush Creek State Natural Area

Milkweed with eggs. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

Today, I returned to volunteering. In preparation, I watched videos on YouTube, took an online orientation from Monarch Joint Venture staff and familiarized myself with forms as well as how data was to be recorded.

I am now an official volunteer for the IMMP or Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program run by Monarch Joint Venture. But, the cool thing is is that I am also collecting baseline data for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and helping the DNR or Department of Natural Resources personnel, to boot! It’s a win not only for me to be able to participate but also for these agencies that depend on volunteers, like me, to help them do their work and substantiate their grant funds, and further scientific understanding of specific species and their habitats.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

In my heyday of volunteering, specifically when my youngest was in forth grade, I was at his elementary school four days a week to work in classrooms and run two weekly groups I was allowed to develop for students. This did not count my volunteerism as a Master Gardener Volunteer when I accumulated over 1,000 hours by 2014 or the following year when volunteering found me speaking to groups of conference attendees at both or State Master Gardener Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin and the International Master Gardener Conference in Council Bluffs, IA. Earlier in my life, if any one had asked me if I would find myself speaking to large groups of people (80-100) about monarchs, citizen science, and gardening with children when I was in middle age, I would have laughed.

The first planting year of garden club. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2005

Despite all those activities, my fondest volunteer experience was the time I spent teaching elementary students in an after school garden club that I founded in 2004. For thirteen years, I ran the monthly club as a volunteer. It took countless hours of my time, which I gave freely to my community and school system, specifically. Over 500 students attended the club over those 13 years! I do have proof of the impact such a club makes, as I conducted a study in 2017. But, I’ve never gotten around to publishing the findings. I’ve started to think about just sharing them in bits and pieces. But, the essence? Nature experiences in youth are valuable. They plant the seeds of environmental stewardship and develop a love for place and nature. And, being an impassioned teacher, such as I was (and, still am), was an integral key to the club’s success!

Holland Sand Prairie Sign. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.

It’s been a couple of years since I was a volunteer. I gave all of my volunteering up when I started working for a local land trust. Looking back, I’m not sure why I did it other than I did not think I had the time. But, what I realize now is that I was giving up part of myself. Volunteering has been an important and satisfying part of my adult life. I’ve missed it.

Wild Bergamot and other plants near the Rush Creek SNA. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

So, today, I drove over a hour away to the Rush Creek State Natural Area and surveyed the property for signs of my beloved monarchs (in all forms) and their habitat. I met with a DNR employee whose job is to manage this land. Together, we walked the property, talked about plants, insects, and jobs. It was an easy camaraderie for two people, a generation apart, who share a love of the natural world and believe in working (whether one is paid or not) to save it and/or make it better – not only for humans but for the pollinators and plants among us.

I am home now. But over the next 2.5 months, I’ll make several trips back to Rush Creek. I’ll look for monarchs, milkweed, and document what I see.

Volunteer? You bet! I am so happy to be one again!

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