DALE CITY, Va. — On Tuesday, dozens of volunteers came out to the I-95 North rest stop in Dale City to put milkweed plants into the ground. It was done to beautify the area and save the dying monarch butterfly population.
The Virginia Department of Transportation teamed up with Dominion Virginia Power and the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy to plant more than 8,000 milkweeds. It’s the latest in the VDOT Pollinator Habitat Program to create way stations for monarch butterflies and other threatened species that pollinate.
“As people come down and stretch their legs and look around, maybe they’ll wander through the garden and see some bees or butterflies,” says Nicole Hamilton, Executive Director of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. “They can picnic and marvel at how beautiful the habitat is.”
Plants in the 15,000-square-foot area will spread its roots in the ground during the fall and winter, then bloom in spring 2016.
Three other locations in northern Virginia got habitats last year. Three have also seeded this month in southwestern Virginia.
“We have 40-something rest areas in Virginia and I would like to see them at every rest stop in the state,” says Diane Beyer, State Roadside Vegetation Planner at VDOT.
There is urgency to plant these habitats because pollinators like the monarch butterfly are dwindling in population.
“The population has declined by over 90-percent in just the last 15 years,” Hamilton says. “We’re at that stage where we are losing them. That would be the worst outcome.”
Education stations will be put up near the rest area building so that people can read about the monarch butterfly population, why they’re important for the ecosystem, and how they can help repopulate the species before they become extinct.