Metro

Monarch butterflies fly free at Fresh Pond

CAMBRIDGE — A group of children, some wearing butterfly wings made of tissue paper, helped open two wooden cages, each holding five monarch butterflies.

The monarchs were reluctant to leave at first, but then flew out in quick succession, eliciting cheers from the crowd gathered at Fresh Pond on Sunday afternoon. The black-and-orange butterflies lingered on low-lying branches, allowing children to get a close look, before they flew away.

“I came for the kids and the butterflies,” said Kathy Watkins, a longtime Cambridge resident. “You have to take the nature where you can get it.”

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The Cambridge Water Department hosted the event. It founded the Fresh Pond Monarch Watch Project, a group that aims to raise awareness about monarch population decline and habitat loss.

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Monarch habitats are threatened by deforestation and pesticide use, said Martine Wong, the Outreach Coordinator for the Monarch Watch Project.

“Our goal is to promote monarch habitat restoration by planting milkweed, which is the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat,” Wong said. “We’ve also removed the invasive species called black swallow wort, which monarchs often mistakenly eat instead of milkweed, causing them to die.”

Monarchs born in the Northeast part of the United States migrate south every September. The next generation returns to the Northeast at the beginning of April.

Rochelle Schokofi, a Cambridge resident who grew up in Guinea, recalled hearing stories about butterflies as a child.

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“Butterflies were an important part of our culture,” she said. “We would sit outside and our parents would tell us stories about them. ‘Fly far like the butterfly,’ they would say.”

Benjamin Smith can be reached at benjamin.smith@globe.com.