Monarchs Flock to Haven at Natural Bridges

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Visitors walked through the eucalyptus groves to celebrate the return of the monarch butterflies, which travel thousands of miles to seek temporary shelter during the winter season.

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges State Park hosted its 33rd annual celebration of the return of the butterflies on Oct. 13.

The return of the monarch butterflies is considered a symbolic event of hope for the community and the surrounding nature.

“The theme of this whole event is that you can be the bridge to help protect the monarchs,” said Natural Bridges lead park interpreter Martha Nitzberg. “There’s something really special about monarch butterflies — they captivate the imagination. Monarchs can be a symbol of transformation for people with cancer and other diseases and allow us to transition on to other steps in our lives.”

Every year, the monarchs migrate to the Bay Area from many different regions: Southern Canada, Washington and Oregon, among others. The Natural Bridges State Park offers the protective shelter of eucalyptus trees. The proximity to the ocean and its low temperature allows the butterflies to conserve their body energy.

“Right now there’s around 500 monarchs and around Thanksgiving there are around 10,000, which is their peak population time in Santa Cruz,” said Pacific Grove Museum worker Allison Watson.

This annual celebration began in October 1980, the year when the second Natural Bridge fell in February. After the fall of the Bridge, the rangers at the time decided that it was fitting to have a commiseration celebration. The celebration for the return of the monarchs serves as a “wake” for the bridge.

While the celebration attracted primarily adults at its conception, it now attracts visitors of all ages. There was a host of family-friendly activities, as well as performances by local musicians. Children took advantage of crafts and games, dancing with the butterflies and making wishes for their well-being.

“It is educational and pleasant,” said guest musician and first-time visitor Kendra McKinley. “The most enjoyable parts for me were getting to play music here, seeing how people reacted and making new friends. Overall I think that ideally there should be more events such as these centered around particular environmental phenomena.”

Along with educating and entertaining attendees, the event was an opportunity to create donations for various local parks and education programs.

“They earn an average of $1,500 with this event,” docent Michelle Kraft said. “The event is one of the ways that they [local parks and education programs] keep their programs free.”

Over the years, the monarch butterfly has also become a great project for the conservation of nature in Santa Cruz and has been traditionally celebrated. The Migration Festival, a farewell celebration for the butterflies which began in 1987, is held annually on the second Saturday of February.

“Monarchs really need our help nowadays,” Nitzberg said. “In the Bay Area we had a lot of pesticide use which has been really difficult on the insects. We encourage everyone to plant more milkweed inland to create more habitats for them. We’re putting more trees around the edges and we have volunteer and internship programs for students with environmental interests.”

Overall, the celebration was an event for all different groups of people to come together and not only enjoy themselves, but also recollect the joys of celebrating the beauty of nature.

“I think it’s a very good opportunity for people to understand a little more about nature and also to give kids a chance to put on a pair of wings and get into the bodies of these insects and create a stronger bond with nature,” said park environmental specialist Emily Coletta. “To me, it’s all about awareness and coming together as a community to celebrate this kind of miracle.”