Somers-area teen works to create a Monarch Waystation

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Sidney Lowry checks on some of the new plantings of native prairie flowers and milkweeds she planted as part of her prairie restoration and Monarch Waystation project taking place at Schilling Sanctuary in Calhoun County.

SOMERS — A Somers-area teen has taken her admiration of native prairie plants into a project to help pollinators and monarch butterflies.

Sidney Lowry, 13, who volunteers at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village in Fort Dodge, said she learned about Iowa’s native prairie plants through prairie restoration projects being done at the museum.

“The Fort has plans to do a prairie restoration there and I found that interesting,” she said. “I’m obsessed with prairies. It’s a part of our natural heritage and I am really into history and that’s kind of why I volunteer at the Fort too.”

Lowry’s project is taking place at Schilling Sanctuary, which features ponds, grassy areas and a marsh located east of Rockwell City in Calhoun County.

Late last summer, Lowry took her ideas and began working with Curtis Vanderheiden, director of Calhoun County Conservation. Together, they came up with a plan and the grant writing process began.

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Sidney Lowry stands by some established milkweeds that are nearby a site where she has planted some native prairie plants and more milkweed.

“Sidney took it upon herself to get the native plants and grasses established back into the sanctuary,” said Vanderheiden. “She has done many hours of research on what plants are all in the Schilling Sanctuary as well as what plants would benefit in that area.”

Vanderheiden said the Schilling Sanctuary is a disturbed prairie and wildlife plantings that were once mined for gravel, which developed the three bodies of water.

“As time went on, Schilling has been overtaken with non-native grasses and plants with a couple of native plants scattered throughout,” he said.

“It was kind of a weed patch,” said Lowry. “I looked out the window and saw it was weedy and overgrown and I decided I wanted to do something.”

Lowry and Vanderheiden worked together to get a grant written that provided four different species of milkweed and a total of 196 plants from MonarchWatch.org.

Jeanine Lowry, Sidney’s mother, said Vanderheiden has been a big help with the project, but has also let it be her daughter’s.

“He let her be the leader in the whole process,” said Jeanine Lowry. “He asked her opinions, which is good, because it’s made her really think about what she wants to do down here.”

“When speaking with Sidney, either on the phone or in person, I could tell she knew what she wanted and she was going to do it with a purpose,” said Vanderheiden. “Someone that is so young, but has the passion that she does for nature, especially plants, is hard to find.”

Lowry, with assistance from her parents Matt and Jeanine Lowry, as well as Dalton Lowry, Kinley Mims and Emma Woltman, worked together to make her dream a reality.

The crew worked together to mow some of the weeds down to make paths throughout the sanctuary and planted several different sites throughout the 15 acres.

“In the planting process, I told my friends, when they would ask me, ‘What we are planting?’ and we just kind of figured it out,” said Lowry. “When they asked me where to dig a hole, I just said to dig a hole.”

For the next six weeks, Lowry said her duties are to tend to the newly planted plants as needed and make observations. This is all a part of not only fulfilling the requirements of the grant, but also to help make the Schilling Sanctuary a certified Monarch Waystation.

Lowry said she needs to show she has nectar plants, or flowers, in order to quality as an official Monarch Waystation.

“I have put native plants in for that,” she said. “It goes with my prairie restoration.”

Lowry is hoping the grass fills in on their planting spots and everything begins looking more established and especially for the new plants to grow healthy and strive.

A member of the Johnson Jaguar 4-H club, Lowry is also using her prairie restoration and Monarch Waystation work for a 4-H conservation project this year.

She is encouraging visitors to visit the Schilling Sanctuary, located east of Rockwell City, north of Calhoun County Road D36 (old Highway 20) on Calhoun County Road P19, or Xenia Avenue.

“Come visit it,” said Lowry.

She has also started seeing some monarchs at the sanctuary and has also seen some monarch eggs laid on the milkweeds.

Jeanine Lowry said she is proud of the hard work her daughter has put in throughout this last year.

“I think it is great she wants to do this stuff,” said Jeanine Lowry. “Somebody has to do it.”

Vanderheiden applauded the Lowrys and their friends.

“Sidney, her family and friends have put in a lot of time out at Schilling, from picking up trash, to mowing, to cutting trees, to planting flowers, to research,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what Schilling Sanctuary will look like in a few years when she is done with it.”

Sidney Lowry said her work will continue as the process of rewriting and trying for another grant will begin soon.

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