When 9-year-old Melanie Gabriel Hastings heard that monarch butterflies could someday be placed on the endangered species list, she decided to do her part to protect them by making them a new home.
"We don't want that to happen because they're such beautiful creatures," Melanie says.
So she created a butterfly garden at her school, Oak Creek Elementary, with the help of family and friends, including her parents and close pal and fellow fourth-grader Makayla McCartney-Pike.
"Sometimes there are problems, and if you try to solve them and end up solving them, things are just getting better," Melanie says.
Melanie says she "really, really" likes the new digs for the butterflies that a small crowd helped create with 40 hours of labor spread over three days on Memorial Day weekend. The group yanked out the grass behind the Oak Creek sign at the entrance to the school parking lot and added garden plots.
She hopes the project will also help her earn the Girl Scouts of America Bronze Award while championing a cause she believes in.
"I think you should really help the environment," she says.
The butterfly she cares about has lost much of the environment it dwells in, causing its numbers to drop. The black-white-and-orange insect, with a wingspan of up to 10.2 centimeters, was once common to North America, but it may not be as plentiful for long.
A 2016 article in Scientific Reports states that the migratory population of monarchs has declined by about 80 percent over the past decade, partly because of a loss of breeding habitat. These butterflies flutter from central Mexico all the way through the northwestern United States to southern Canada during the year.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials are conducting an assessment to determine whether monarchs need Endangered Species Act protection; the listing decision is slated for 2019, according to the agency's website.
Meanwhile, Melanie's garden serves as a small habitat for the monarchs, featuring lots of milkweed. Each butterfly has a different host plant where it lays its eggs, and the monarch prefers to deposit its future young in milkweed. The milkweed's bloom varies in appearance by region, but in this area, they tend to be pink, star-shaped flowers clustered in small puffs.
In the garden, those flowers are interspersed with other beauties such as goldenrod-colored yarrow and sunny yellow calla lilies. The shape of the garden unintentionally mimics that of a butterfly when seen from above.
"I think it really looks amazing, and it ended up looking like a butterfly," Makayla says.
She loves the garden with its variety of blooms and a bark chip path lined with stones — heavy stones.
"If the stones are too heavy, (supporters) can help you lift them or to share your goals and achieve them," she says.
Melanie says she appreciates the help from her supporters, especially her parents.
"When you think you're struggling, they're always by your side, saying, 'You can do it,'" she says. "'You can accomplish this goal.'"
The Lake Oswego City Council assisted in funding the project with a $3,000 grant, and Girl Scouts are in charge of the butterfly boxes that caterpillars will grow in before being released into the garden. Oak Creek Elementary classrooms are going to raise caterpillars in the boxes and release them when they're ready to fly.
"Then hopefully they'll come back and lay their eggs on the milkweed," Melanie says.
Every student in school will paint a rock to line the pathways, and a few are already brightening the site. The inspiration for the colorful stones is the children's book "Only One You," by Linda Kranz.
"There's only one you," Melanie says. "You are unique, and you are the only one. You don't have to do what other people are doing."
Her mom, Megan Hastings, says that the story is about not caving in to peer pressure and embracing your own personality. Hastings says her daughter embraced her own passion when her mom took her to a butterfly pavilion in Junction City.
Hastings adds that Melanie has always yearned to help others, and she has been lauded for her efforts. In January, Melanie was honored for her volunteer efforts to establish a school garden last year with one of the Lake Oswego Rotary Club's Service Above Self: Educational Excellence Awards. She also was nominated for The Review's Amazing Kid Award this spring, which is bestowed upon young people with a devotion to community service.
Hastings says she is proud of her daughter.
"She's really impressive for 9 years old," she says. "She's done a lot of impressive things."