Since a high school job introduced her to monarch butterflies, Jessica Lister, right, has been active in their conservation, including tagging them for tracking. (Photo courtesy Jessica Lister)

At the end of last year, Jessica Lister was searching for a race.
An avid runner and obstacle course racer, Lister wanted to find a race she could zero in on with a singular focus.
When she came across an article announcing the Monarch Ultra Run, it was as if she had struck gold.
“It was one of that things that just clicked in me,” said Lister, who is vice president of restoration at Environmental Concern in St. Michaels and has studied the monarch butterfly since she was in high school.
“How are my two passions joined together like this? It’s perfect.”
The Monarch Ultra Run is a 4,300-km (2,670 mile) relay run following the migratory path of monarch butterflies starting in Peterborough, Ontario on Sept. 19 and ending at the insects’ sanctuary in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico 47 days later.
Ultra-runners such as Lister will run be running segments of 50-km to 100-km each as a call to action to protect pollinators and inspire communities to get involved in conservation efforts.
Run organizers are also filming a documentary on the runners and the monarch migration.
Lister runs her leg of the run near Harrisburg, Ill., on Oct 2 and will also join other runners on a shorter stretch up the Cerro Pelon Mountain on Nov. 4 to reach the sanctuary.
“They always go to the same spot and roost in the same trees. It’s really cool,” she said.
No doubt a major undertaking for Lister, it’s also just the next step for her and Environmental Concern in their conservation efforts for native plants, pollinators and the mighty monarch.
In 2009, Lister with her husband — and equally avid runner — Matt, established a three-acre meadow on their Cordova property, loading up on native pollinator-friendly plant material.
“We decided that we didn’t want that huge lawn area so we created a meadow,” she said. “We have had so many monarchs and the milkweed has just taken off.”
In 2016, Environmental Concern President Suzanne Pittenger-Slear and Lister launched the Mid-Atlantic Monarch Initiative, bringing several local and national groups together with the goal to increase milkweed planting, the host plant and food source for monarchs, on the East Coast.
That soon led to the Seed Steward for Monarchs program. Started in May 2018, the program gives free milkweed plants to volunteers who plant them, then collect the seed for Environmental Concern in exchange for more milkweed plants.
So far, the program has distributed 4,944 plants to 205 participants.
Pittenger-Slear and Lister both signed on as Monarch Ultra Ambassadors and Environmental Concern is a global partner in the run and coordinating the “Mini Monarch Ultra” program for school children to coincide with the run.
It aims to help school set up their own mini run/walk for students while following the Ultra and educating them about the monarch migration and conservation practices and planting their own pollinator gardens.
“This is a unique opportunity to expand the students’ connection with nature and the monarch butterfly’s challenging journey,” said Pittenger-Slear. “The program also provides a process for students to communicate with other schools across North America who are participating the Mini Monarch Ultras.”
As for Lister, training for her leg of the Ultra includes running five days a week working up to 50 miles a week, and strength and conditioning three days a week.
She sees the intense workouts as somewhat of a parallel to the monarch’s change from caterpillar to butterfly.
“For me it’s like I’m transforming, too, but into this ultra runner,” she said.
While training for the ultra run has been her focus for several months, she’s clearly been preparing for it a lot longer.