Pete Ortiz

Del Rioan Pete Ortiz, left, who is studying biology, and Nora Padilla, interpretive ranger for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, prepare a portion of a vacant lot in south Del Rio slated to be used as a Monarch way station.

For several afternoons this week, volunteers with the Casa De La Cultura and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have been working to turn a vacant city lot into a haven for migrating Monarch butterflies.

Several years ago, the city of Del Rio gave permission for the Casa De La Cultura and its partners to use a vacant lot at the corner of Andrade and Cisneros streets, about a block from the Casa’s main building on Brown Plaza in south Del Rio, as a “Monarch way station.”

The lot was one of dozens purchased by the city using Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) dollars following a devastating flood of the San Felipe Creek in August 1998.

Casa Executive Director Lupita De La Paz approached the city and said the Casa wanted to work with Texas Parks and Wildlife to transform the vacant FEMA lot into a garden with plants specifically targeted to attract Monarch butterflies. The butterflies pass through Val Verde County every October on the way to their wintering grounds in central Mexico.

Nora Padilla, interpretive ranger for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, joined De La Paz and a handful of other volunteers at the site of the future way station for several hours of work on Monday.

“This week, we are working to clean the lot that has been donated to be used as a way station for Monarch butterflies. It was donated to the Casa, and they are the ones that are going to oversee this site,” Padilla said.

Padilla and the Casa staff are also preparing for an armored catfish tournament Saturday and Sunday, and she pointed out several pits dug in the lot that serve as the “official armored catfish cemetery,” where the remains of the armored catfish caught in thetourney will be buried and serve as fertilizer.

“This week we are going to be pulling weeds and prepping the soil because we are getting ready to plant milkweed here,” Padilla said.

Padilla said she and TP&WD biologist Ryan Schmidt have collected milkweed and milkweed seeds from mature plants growing along roads and highways.

“The seeds have already been prepared to plant in the way station,” Padilla said.

Milkweed serves as a major attractor for Monarch butterflies and is one of the only plants on which Monarch caterpillars feed.

Padilla said she and the Casa staff will also plant a wildflower garden to attract bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds.

“Our goal is to educate people about the importance of pollinators, including the Monarchs. We especially want to use the way station as a site for educational programs for the children of Del Rio,” Padilla said.

“But we want to include adults as well, because many adults don’t know how to care for wildflowers because many of them are looked on as weeds. We want to make sure they learn that ‘weeds’ are important as well,” she added.

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