This event was all about the butterflies

Farm Forum

About 300 people made butterfly antennae, decorated butterfly wings and joined in the butterfly parade on July 16 as they learned about butterflies, bees and flowers.

There was face painting, information booths and more.

The Oahe Downstream Recreation Area hosted its second annual Little Wings on the Prairie. The event was founded as a way to showcase the park’s butterfly garden.

The butterfly garden was planted in 2013 to attract pollinators — helpful insects that pollinate flowers and help them create seeds. The event on July 16 was an extension of that, said Charlene Bessken, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“(It’s) all about butterflies and bees and pollinators in general,” she said. “We’re always trying to push the education aspect of it and teach people about pollinators, so we thought, ‘Let’s do a big festival, and we can hand out information, and have a lot activities.’ And that’s how it started.”

Bessken said her favorite part was the parade, in which youngsters join in the fun.

“Just seeing all the kids coming out, and their participating in being little pollinators,” she said. “They get to dress up and be in that.”

The idea is to interest the children while they’re still young. Bessken noted that pollinators are on the decline for several reasons. If children create their own butterfly gardens, that may help reverse the trend.

Another thing Bessken hopes to do is to educate ranchers and large landowners about is the

importance of milkweed, and make sure they preserve it. Despite the “weed” name, it’s crucial to the survival of monarch butterflies. If the milkweed disappears, so do the monarchs.

Sam Missal, an amateur beekeeper based in Pierre, brought his hives and honey — but not his bees — to the event. He, too, described the event as an educational mission.

“The more we can understand about them, the better chance we have of allowing them to flourish them again,” he said.

Missal said bees role as pollinators are crucial in helping plants — including cash crops — grow. The bees have been doing this for millions of years, but now they are beginning to decline due to pesticides, attacks by other insects and other reasons, he said.

Luanne Noeske, a master gardener at the event, said the ideas is to interest youngsters in flowers that will attract pollinators, and possibly create the next generation of gardeners.

“Plant a garden. There’s a variety of flowers that attract pollinators. Just find something. Green spaces are important as resting spots, and eating spots, nectar spots for all these different pollinators,” she said.

The butterfly garden is open year round, close to the entrance to the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area, and people are encouraged to come and look at the 20 different flowers planted there. Bessken hopes people like the flowers and are intrigued enough to try planting some in their own gardens.

Event participants included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SD Game, Fish and Parks, U.S. Forest Service/Fort Pierre National Grassland, SDSU Extension, Discovery Center of Pierre and the Pheasants Forever organization.