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The Knight and Monarch Waystation
Julie Beckwith

On July 13, The Altamont School registered as a certified International Monarch Waystation. This project grew out of a long-term interest of Altamont science teacher Dr. Mary Williams. "I teach my students about monarch migration in connection with a variety of topics: pollinators, plant reproduction, climate change, endangered species, and interesting animal migrations. Because monarchs come through Alabama, I have wanted, for years, to start an official waystation. It's finally happening!"

Monarchs are in danger. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "Habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch's range. Numbers of monarchs have decreased significantly over the last 20 years." However, the agency suggests that projects, such Altamont's waystation, can help save the monarch: "In the United States, there is a massive effort to provide habitat for monarch butterflies, imperiled bumble bees and other pollinators. There is no one group or agency responsible for providing habitat needed for monarch conservation. All organizations, agencies and individuals must work together to improve, restore and create habitats to save monarchs."

Partnering with Dr. Williams on Altamont's waystation is rising 9th grader Anja Trierweiler, who was interested earning her Girl Scout Silver Award with a gardening project. Using seeds from Monarch Watch, Anja and Dr. Williams germinated and planted almost 200 pots, or over 600 seeds, in the early spring in Dr. Williams' room and in the Altamont greenhouse.

Once the seedlings were ready, Anja and Dr. Williams transferred them, as well as a variety of mature plants, to a totally organic garden behind the school. Included in Altamont's garden are zinnia, Mexican sunflower, salvia, joe-pye weed, blanket flower, French marigold, black-eyed Susan, butterfly bush, phlox, purple coneflower and three types of milkweed: common, swamp and butterfly. "Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed and need the other plants mostly for nectar," said Dr. Williams. "It's important to plant the correct milkweed. One of the types of milkweed most commonly found actually carries a parasite, which has hurt conservation efforts."

In addition to planting the garden, Anja and Dr. Williams also keep the plants watered, no small task during an Alabama summer.

Dr. Williams' family played a large role in making the garden a reality. Her daughter, rising sophomore Mary Elisa Wagner, helped start the seedlings and helps with watering the garden. Her husband, Frederic Wagner, tilled the flower beds, contributed many bags of garden soil and helped with the planting.

Dr. Williams and Anja hope that the monarch waystation will continue to grow and that other students will become involved in the work. Altamont's Knight and Monarch Waystation is one of only a handful in the Birmingham area, and Altamont is the first school in Birmingham with a waystation.

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