‘THERE’S a bunch of butterflies down there!” a girl of about 9 excitedly whispers to me as I start down the bridge toward the eucalyptus grove of Natural Bridges State Beach, the winter home to thousands of monarch butterflies recently arrived from the north. Surveying the underbrush, I glimpse one resting on a leafy stalk and hold my breath as I lean in with my camera in an attempt to capture its delicate stance. A step too far and the creature is up in the air, swirling as if in a dance with two newfound friends. I crane my neck to watch their ascent into the trees, their path bringing my attention to a eucalyptus branch that looks slightly off. And then it becomes clear: hundreds of reddish, drooping leaves are actually all monarchs.
Natural Bridges celebrates the return of the monarchs this Sunday, Oct. 9 at the 31st annual Welcome Back Monarchs Day. It’s also a celebration of the re-opening of the boardwalk trail that leads down to the eucalyptus grove—repaired with the help of the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks after it was damaged last winter. This Sunday will be the scene of true monarch mania. Park ranger Martha Nitzberg reels off the attractions: “There will be monarch music, monarch dancing, the return of monarch man and monarch woman, the rising of the monarch flag. There will even be hand-made pumpkin—I mean butterfly—ice cream.” As with all festivals, arts and crafts, face painting and a raffle round out the bill, and this case there are also monarch-friendly gardening tips and, of course, trips down the boardwalk trail to see the butterflies. It’s the perfect family destination and, as Nitzberg puts it, “an opportunity to have different generations connect to the natural world.
“The festival is about protecting an insect, which is unusual,” she says. “I hope it will create awe and inspiration to protect the little things.” But while the return of the monarchs provides a great excuse to celebrate, Nitzberg notes that Natural Bridges isn’t just about the butterflies, and the event will provide a time for people to explore any of its many different habitats, from intertidal zone to wetlands. “I hope the day will make people want to come back here,” she says. “After all, the parks are for everyone.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly: