Help the NAG build a butterfly sculpture in Prairie

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A local conservation group is hoping a stunning monarch butterfly sculpture will soon welcome travelers to Montgomery County and a prairie restoration area nestled between Interstate 55 and Route 66 north of Litchfield.

Natural Area Guardians (NAGs), a volunteer preservation arm of the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, has been busy raising funds to install a seven-foot-wide steel monarch butterfly sculpture on ten feet tall and a 25-foot pole, facing the freeway, but pandemic-related economic issues mean the group still has about $6,000 to raise to complete the project.

Donors who donate $1,000 or more will have their names or memorials posted at the Route 66 Prairie entrance, just north of the I-55 weigh station, on a sign if they wish. Donations of any amount are welcome. Although NAGs is not a charity, it is tax exempt and donations are likely tax deductible; consult an accountant.

NAGs engaged Foppe Visual Communication, a consultant from Highland, to design the project.

Why a monarch?

“Monarch populations have declined significantly in recent years, as has biodiversity in general, here and elsewhere,” according to Henry Eilers of Litchfield, founder and lifelong member of the NAGs who has been the steward of the Route 66 Prairie site ever since. 2009. “We only partially understand. This makes this grave loss and its potential implications for us doubly worrying. This sculpture can draw our attention to this loss and this great danger.

Eilers, however, sees the sculpture not as a reminder of the problem, but as a beacon towards the solution.

“It can also be an emblem of hope, of hope for recovery, of a more sustainable way of life with our fellow travelers on spacecraft Earth,” Eilers said. “After all, we are never separate from nature, but rather a part of nature. At the end of the day, we undoubtedly depend on the totality of the natural world far more than we realize.

And what better place for this “emblem of hope” than Route 66 Prairie, an incredibly diverse area just north of the highway weigh station near Litchfield.

“Protecting the complexity and wholeness of this natural world is certainly the goal of Route 66 Prairie, where this landmark will reside,” Eilers explained. “It’s a ‘Noah’s ark’ of organisms, with some 298 plant species alone officially recognized here. We already have an infrastructure in place to help educate a much larger audience. A monumental sculpture like this monarch can be a link – an opportunity to connect with nature – to our precious natural heritage. It will be widely visible every day to the thousands of travelers on the adjacent I-55 freeway. We hope that many more, including tourists from many countries, will soon travel the historic old Route 66 again and experience our tallgrass prairie heritage.

Just two years ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), along with NAGs, Pheasants Forever, and several others, planned and built a concrete parking lot with room for vehicles and buses on the Route 66 Prairie, as well as a 200 foot long concrete walkway to a terminus in the middle.

Donation checks can be addressed to the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, c/o Melissa Cauble, 1621 Vandalia Rd., Hillsboro, IL 62049. Indicate on the check if you want the donation to remain anonymous.

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