For several years now, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has put a priority on helping monarch butterflies. All pollinators can benefit from simply planting flowers each year, but the monarch is one of the most recognizable species in North America and it’s in trouble. Because their life story includes a multi-generational, multinational migration, they are particularly susceptible to habitat loss and fragmentation along the way. Surely one of the world's greatest natural wonders, the Service (including our hatchery) has been emphasizing monarch habitat restoration for each refuge or hatchery in their range.

For several years now, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has put a priority on helping monarch butterflies. All pollinators can benefit from simply planting flowers each year, but the monarch is one of the most recognizable species in North America and it’s in trouble. Because their life story includes a multi-generational, multinational migration, they are particularly susceptible to habitat loss and fragmentation along the way. Surely one of the world's greatest natural wonders, the Service (including our hatchery) has been emphasizing monarch habitat restoration for each refuge or hatchery in their range.
Enter onto the monarch scene one Sara Dykman. Several years ago she created “Beyond A Book” to connect students to adventure in order to foster lifelong learners, boundary pushers, explorers and stewards. Her exploratory zest has found an outlet with this adventure-linked education project that connects real-time journeys to classrooms across the country. For years now, Sara and her team has been creating opportunities to inspire students to push their limits and explore the planet.
The first adventure was a doozy - a 15,000 mile, 49-state bike tour. It started in 2010 and lasted over a year. Seventy-nine flat tires later, they had worked with over 3500 students to help them discover the importance of healthy lifestyles for a healthy planet. In similar fashion, they next biked 9583 miles from Bolivia to Texas, then canoed 3351 miles from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This year, Beyond A Book has embarked on its fourth big project.
Called “ButterBike,” a cross-countries bicycle ride is raising awareness of the monarch butterflies and migrates with them, or at least along their natural range. Having started in Mexico City, Ms Dykman is now on the home stretch of a 10,000 mile journey from the Mexican wintering grounds clear up to Montreal, Canada and then back again. Each project has had a creative, passionate team of biologists, educators, and adventurers, but Sara is the “ButterBiker” and her ride came through Neosho earlier this week.
Since the Service’s mission has put an emphasis on the monarchs and Sara’s experiences are intersecting where we are, the plans to link forces began some months ago. In fact, one of our first exchanges indicated her excitement that her planned route went right through our town! Despite all the unknowns for an adventure such as this, arrangements were made to speak at two local elementary schools, Central and Benton, to integrate her experiences into the classroom. Many emails, calls, visits and days in between later, her arrival finally came. With her engaging style, we were able to touch over 500 kids with the story of her exploits. She wove together concepts like geography, life cycles, ecosystem/habitats, cultural awareness, and science conservation with the thrill of adventure, trying new things, not giving up, and following your dreams.
It was great to be a part of her journey and great to see the kids’ positive energetic responses. As she says, “This energy, after all, is the commodity that makes my trip more than a bike ride.” She is a great example of a woman scientist, adventurer, and lifelong learner – something we all can be inspired by.
And as quickly as she came, she was off again. Today she is in Fayetteville and then continues on southward. In her non-adventure time, this seasonal amphibian / reptile worker and outdoor educator will no doubt be scheming as to the next chapter for Beyond A Book. I’m just glad this one included the monarchs and people of Neosho.

Bruce Hallman writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.