Got milkweed?

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 Lindsay Birnbrich, 11, poses with one of the many  Monarch butterflies she and her sisters raised and released over the summer. She is the recipient of a $2,300 Start Something scholarship, which she will use to travel to Mexico in February to further her studies of the Monarch.

If you ask most fifth-graders about their dream vacation, they would probably describe to you a trip to Disney World or a visit to the beach. Lindsay Birnbrich of Galloway, however, is not most fifth-graders.

Lindsay will fly to Mexico in February to observe the over-wintering of Monarch butterflies, and she couldn’t be more excited.

Her trip is being funded by a $2,300 scholarship she was recently awarded through the “Start Something” Tiger Woods Foundation, co-sponsored by Target.

“I screamed when I found out. It was really loud,” said Lindsay.

She, along with her twin sister Hannah and their younger sister, Margaret, 9, have been home-schooled by their mother, Kelly, for the past two years. They all share the same enthusiasm for the orange and black beauties.

It began when the family attended a home-school program at Blendon Woods. That program sent them home with five caterpillars and introduced Kelly to the Monarch Teaching Network.

Using this network, Kelly uses her children’s love of the Monarch to teach them science, language arts, social studies, math, Spanish and technology. It also helps to emphasize a connection between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

The girls have learned everything about the Monarch, from the life a caterpillar, to its metamorphasis into a butterfly. Using a vocabulary far beyond that of an average fifth-grader, Lindsay is quick to describe the eating habits, breeding process and migration tendencies of the butterflies.

Over the summer, the family raised and released more than 50 Monarch butterflies. Each butterfly was tagged, using a small sticker attached to its wing. These stickers, obtained through the University of Kentucky, help others learn more about the lives of butterflies.

After tagging, the girls go online and record the information about the butterfly with its corresponding number. When the butterflies are found, the Birnbrich sisters,a long with anyone else, can track where they have been.

This enthusiasm for the beautiful winged creatures has led to an involvement in its protection.

During their studies, the girls learned that the Monarch caterpillars have only one food source – the milkweed plant. This is where the adult butterflies lay their eggs and where the caterpillars feed until they are ready to begin their transformation.

Due to several factors, including diminishing green space, over-development, use of herbicides and mowing in fields, this plant is becoming difficult to find.

The Birnbrich family has taken it upon themselves to help change this.

They have created their own T-shirts, with the caption “Got milkweed?” on the front, and “Save the Monarchs” on the back. They wear these shirts when they go out into the community to educate people about this developing problem.

The sisters also collect seeds from any milkweed plants they find, so they can be bagged and sent to anyone who wants them, along with information on the care of the plants. These seeds can be planted in early spring or fall.

Unfortunately, the milkweed plant is not the only habitat of the Monarchs that is in danger.

Each fall, Monarch butterflies leave central Ohio and begin the migration to Mexico. Each spring, sixth-generation descendants of those butterflies return.

While in Mexico, the butterflies spend the winter hanging from trees in the Oyamel forest. This forest is slowly being depleted due to illegal logging.

When the Birnbrichs found out about the Start Something scholarship, they knew it was they had been looking for.

To apply, Kelly had to plan out the trip and account for every penny that would be spent. Lindsay did everything else.

“It was a lot of writing for her,” said Kelly.

She had to describe why she wanted to go and what she would do when she was there.

“I want to learn about why they are logging and teach them about the Monarchs,” said Lindsay.

She will also hike two mountains, meet other school children, tour silver and copper mines and see many historical and cultural sites.

She also had to list the things she would do in preparation for the trip, including making plans, learning Spanish, obtaining a passport and exercising in preparation for the

walking and climbing involved.

Lindsay hopes that this trip will be a learning experience both for her and for the people that she meets along the way. She also hopes to bring her sisters along with her.

The Birnbrichs’ are attempting to secure sponsorships from local individuals and businesses to help the rest of the family make the trip.

When they return, they plan to put their new-found knowledge to good use. The sisters hope to hold several classes throughout the area to teach children about raising Monarchs. Dates will be announced in the spring.

“The whole North American continent needs to be educated,” said Kelly. “Canada and the U.S. has the milkweed and Mexico has the forests.”

The family also hopes to encourage central Ohio cities and villages to use green-spaces to house Monarch friendly flower beds consisting of milkweed and other nectar-rich flowers. They hope to start in Hilliard.

The Birnbrich girls also plan to continue their crusade to ensure that everyone in central Ohio has “got milkweed.”

To receive free milkweed seeds from Lindsay and her sisters, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Save the Monarchs, at 823 Thornview Dr., Galloway, Ohio, 43119. Each packet contains 20 seeds, so specify quantity with your request.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Birnbrich family’s trip to Mexico, e-mail Kelly at birnbrichkelly@yahoo.com.

For more information of saving the Monarchs, log on to www.monarchwatch.com.

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