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Hugo Ciszek, 3, of Palos Hills, was astonished to see Monarch butterflies so up close during Lake Katherine's Monarch Celebration this past weekend at the nature center, 7402 Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights.

Hugo Ciszek, 3, of Palos Hills, was astonished to see Monarch butterflies so up close during Lake Katherine's Monarch Celebration this past weekend at the nature center, 7402 Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights. (Photos by Kelly White)

Lake Katherine monarch celebration returns

By Kelly White

Celebrating the start of the fall season with hundreds of monarch butterflies taking flight was Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanical Garden.

After taking last year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lake Katherine, 7402 Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights, held its 28th annual Monarch Butterfly Festival, renamed this year as a Monarch Celebration, on Saturday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Sept. 19.

“We had about 1,500 people over two days as opposed to 4,000 in one day, which is part of the reason we have decided to call the event a Monarch Celebration as opposed to the Monarch Festival,” Gareth Blakesley, Director and Chief Naturalist at Lake Katherine, said.

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Lucy Kremel, 4, of Orland Park, held a butterfly for the first time last Saturday morning at Lake Katherine’s Monarch Celebration.

Families were able to experience the magic of the butterfly up close on during the celebration as they walked through a butterfly tent filled with monarchs in a pre-registered 15-minute time slot.

The cost to be admitted was $10 with the option to release a butterfly in the tent for an additional $5. Staff only permitted a maximum of 20 people inside the tent. As a registered nonprofit, any funds raised will go directly to continue the nature center’s education, restoration work and marinating the grounds.

“Because this years’ event is different, it will be easier to determine that after the event, but we expect it to be more intimate and because of preregistration guaranteed entry to the butterfly tent with no long lines,” Blakesley said.

The monarch is a large, uniquely colored butterfly that is easy to recognize by its orange, black, and white markings.

At the start of every fall season, all monarchs embark on an incredible cross-country migration that begins in the United States and Canada. Generations of these butterflies travel thousands of miles until they reach Mexico, where they the stay over the winter season until it’s time to begin their migration back in March.

Only monarchs born in late summer or early fall make the migration, and they make just one round trip.

Monarchs are not endangered, but the number of monarch butterflies has dropped substantially over the past few decades. The decline of pollinators has played in a factor in the monarchs’ downfall.

“Monarchs are in decline and the migrations at risk of not continuing and the reason for this are many fold: the decline of milkweed plants, which is the host plant of the monarch, lack of pollinator plants, which the butterfly needs to nectar to feed on, and stress on the overwintering site in the Oyumel forest in Mexico,” Blakesley said. “People can help monarchs by planting milkweed, the host plant, and two preferred plants to nectar on, blazing star and goldenrod.”

Monarch caterpillars feed and lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed, but the flower is rapidly disappearing from the countryside due to the overuse of herbicides, and the decline of native prairie.

Blakesley said he was grateful for the help from Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz, who took on the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge in 2017, and has since been advocating for more spaces for pollinator plants throughout the city.

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Lake Katherine Nature, 7402 Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights, held its 28th annual Monarch Butterfly Festival, renamed this year as a Monarch Celebration.

During the weekend celebration at Lake Katherine, guests were also able to enjoy a visit with animal guests, a crafting area, educational activities, a hayride around the grounds, a couple of food vendors, and more.

Three-year-old, Hugo Ciszek was astonished to see the butterflies so up close.

“He (Hugo) loves to observe nature, so this was perfect for him,” His mother, Maya Ciszek, of Palos Hills, said.

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