Monday, April 21, 2014

Butterflies return to County Grounds - etched in concrete

If you live anywhere near the intersection of I-94 and I-894/Hwy 45 you probably received the latest edition of the Zoo Interchange Newsletter, as did I. It is full of maps and handy information about the progress of this massive--and massively disruptive--construction project. In addition the practical information about which ramps and roads are currently closed or under construction, you can learn about carpooling options and how much recycling the WisDOT is doing.

Did you know, for example, that the DOT "anticipates recycling the equivalent of 4,000 dump trucks full of concrete" in 2015? (What you won't learn from the newsletter is the good news that, as of yet at least, the concrete crushing that precedes all this recycling is not being done in the middle of the County Grounds.)

But what caught my eye right away was the small photograph in the lower right corner of the front page of the newsletter. It depicts "the butterfly wall" that recently has been completed under the Swan Boulevard bridge crossing Hwy 45. The concrete wall has been deeply etched with flowers and butterflies. It will be visible to motorists on Hwy 45 as they flash by. And also to anyone who uses the yet-to-be-completed underpass trail that will connect the new trail system in Innovation Park with the existing one in Wil-O-Way Woods on the north side of Swan.

The caption under the photo reads, "The 2013 Swan Boulevard project includes the construction of 'the butterfly wall' along US 45. The wall celebrates the migratory path of monarch butterflies."

Other recently rebuilt bridges sport similar designs. The airport spur has airplanes etched into the bridge abutments. The most interesting one, I think, is the I-43 bridge over Fon du Lac Avenue. In raised relief it commemorates the underground railroad and the struggle for civil rights.

I think it's great that the DOT is decorating the highways. They could go further, it seems to me. There are all those sound barriers being erected along the freeways to protect adjacent neighborhoods from the incessant noise. Why not liven them up with graphic designs?

But instead of cheering me up the butterfly wall saddens me. Last fall the migration that the wall celebrates was disappointing. It may have been temporary. It certainly was part of a larger problem that extended throughout the historic monarch migration routes and was most noticeable in the wintering grounds of Michoacan, Mexico.

Loss of habitat is the most often cited reason for the decline, as is the case with so many other animal species. At the County Grounds an 11-acre segment of the Innovation Park campus has been set aside as protected monarch habitat. With proper and persistent care and maintenance, perhaps it will enable the butterflies to return in future years. That is the hope.

For now we have concrete freeway walls etched with commemorative butterflies. I had to go see them for myself. With construction suspended for Easter Sunday I was able to do so. Here is what I saw.

The small sign in the center, erected by the Friends of the Monarch Trail, reads, "Butterfly habitat restoration project."

There is a second "butterfly wall" under construction along the unfinished cloverleaf ramp for the new Watertown Plank Road interchange.

A small wetland habitat next to the Eschweiler complex is staked with protective flags.

The boarded engineering building, part of the Eschweiler complex, awaits its fate: restoration if all goes well; demolition if not.

ABB is the first business to be located in the Innovation Park campus. The building is expected to open sometime this spring.


  1. Happy Easter Eddee!
    I vowed this would never become a memorial wall but the notion held by developers and officials that 11 acres is enough is still dissapointing. This season, we're going to restore areas within County Grounds Park, the DOT berm, and the new road right-of-way.

    It should also be pointed out that the Foundation sold a portion of the 11 acres to WisDOT.

  2. I also hope this doesn't end up being a memorial wall.

    It's always stunning to me: We've fine-tuned a learned behavior as humans to say "It's not my fault" as we make decisions that impact nature and other humans. Other societies across the globe have learned behaviors that allow them to claim responsibility as groups to care for those who need protecting.

    I hope we learn more of this behavior as we go. It's obvious we have more to learn.

    Julie Henszey

  3. Thank you both. I also hope it isn't a memorial wall.

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