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Planting a landing pad

Monarch butterfly migration focus of Eagle Scout project

Worrying whether butterflies have a place to rest their weary wings on their migratory journey from Canada to Mexico is not something with which the average teenage boy concerns himself.

But Wauwatosa resident Eric Homan is not your average teenage boy.

On one recent Saturday, the Milwaukee Lutheran High School sophomore and member of Boy Scout Troop No. 21 stood in near freezing drizzle on a high point at the Milwaukee County Grounds and proudly pointed to the more than 20 poplar trees he and his volunteer group had just planted along a wide swath of land near U.S. Highway 45.

"It was just the right thing to do," he said, pulling his knit hat down to his eyelids as the wind picks up. "I think it is important that we do what we can to make sure this is always here for the monarchs. It's pretty cool to have something like this right here in Wauwatosa."

Woman inspires project

Homan's idea for his Eagle Scout project, just one step in the process to earn his Eagle Scout rank, came to him after hearing about a Wauwatosa woman's efforts to ensure the monarchs had a safe landing pad each fall on the grounds.

Barb Agnew, owner of a Wauwatosa flower shop, has made it her personal mission to make sure the majestic monarchs can continue to stop in Wauwatosa on the grounds, in spite of all the digging from the detention basin excavation and pending redevelopment.

Her efforts over the last two years resulted in much publicity for the habitat. Because of Agnew, hundreds of people walked the grounds this fall to view the beautiful orange and black monarchs amid the wildflowers east of the abandoned Eschweiler buildings. She erected signs directing people to the viewing areas. The handmade signs sprouted up between the weeds and tall grass to mark a path from the parking area off Watertown Plank Road toward the butterfly habitat.

Starting in late August, the monarchs gather on the grounds and by the end of September, they take off, hitching a ride on the Gulf Stream until they eventually find their way to Mexico.

It's a phenomena unique to Wauwatosa that provoked Agnew to act and Homan, who regularly frequents the flower shop with his mother and has viewed the pupas emerge and butterflies unfold at Agnew's own shop, caught her fever.

"I used to come to this area and walk here and along the parkway with my grandpa and with this flood project, a lot of wildflowers were destroyed, so I talked to (County Supervisor Jim) 'Luigi' (Schmitt) and he helped me get the necessary approval," Homan said. "I think this is going to be really great."

Homan came up with the idea for planting the trees to provide a protected area for the habitat. The poplar trees will grow and with that, protect the butterflies, which feed off the goldenrod and other wildflowers found just off Swan Boulevard.

Agnew put Homan in contact with a Third Ward company that was about to take down an art exhibit installation outside its offices on Erie Street in Milwaukee. That installation included about 60 poplar trees.

The company, Oasis Vending, said they would gladly donate the trees to the preserve project.

Twenty-three trees were pulled up from outside the Oasis Vending offices last week and picked up by Homan and his cadre of 25 or so volunteers.

The rest will go in after Oasis pulls the trees up in the next few weeks.

With many members of Troop No. 21 to help with the tree planting, Homan also asked for donations from area hardware shops for the supplies.

Robertson's Ace Hardware and Puhl's True Value in Wauwatosa donated chicken wire to protect the young tree bark from being gnawed by deer in the coming months. Stakes and wire were also donated to hold up the trees.

Boy Scout Troop No. 21 leader Steve Weber said he is proud of Homan's efforts along with all the other Scouts who think up their own ideas for their Eagle Scout projects.

"I avoid finding the projects; it helps them take ownership if they come up with their own ideas," he said.

Supervisor lauds effort

Schmitt stopped by on Nov. 17 to check on the progress.

He applauded the boy's efforts and ingenuity and said he was happy to help make it happen by getting Milwaukee County to agree to the project.

Schmitt said that with the agreement with Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, in charge of excavating the detention basins for flood control, MMSD in its agreement with Milwaukee County will furnish and install 1,000 trees in the detention basin area, where many trees were removed.

For now, however, Schmitt hopes "and prays," that with planned freeway work at the U.S. Highway 45 ramps on Watertown Plank Road by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and potential development by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for an engineering school on the grounds, that Homan's efforts will not be lost.

"There is not a 100 percent guarantee that it will all stay in," he said of Homan's work. "But Eric knows this and the others involved were told this. We are at the mercy of the DOT and that berm could become part of their design, but nobody has been told yet what they plan to do. Our hope is that these trees and the work done here will be in place for a very long time. It certainly is a very unique spot in Wauwatosa worth preserving."

After digging holes into the ground to plant the trees, Homan and one of his volunteers, Boy Scout Evan Lynch, pounded the dirt around the trunk of the tree to make the tree stand straight and tall.

And as the freezing rain and wind whipped the young poplar trees back and forth on this day, Homan's hope is that they will grow tall to provide a haven for the next monarch migration.

"I think this place is important," he said.


Janice Kayser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or               (262) 446-6608         (262) 446-6608.



For his Eagle Scout project, Wauwatosa resident Eric Homan

is planting trees

on the Milwaukee County Grounds to preserve the monarch habitat


trees to be planted

by Homan and his



volunteers who helped Homan carry and plant

the trees on the grounds Nov. 17


inch-deep holes were dug

to plant the trees