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Butterflies flutter to freedom at annual release

POSTED: May 30, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

A butterfly lands on a flower at Wilshire Trails Park Sunday afternoon during the 12th Annual Friends of the Parks butterfly release. One thousand of the butterflies were released by hundreds in attendance.

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About 2,000 people swarmed Wilshire Trails Park on Sunday to release 1,000 fluttering butterflies into the Gainesville sky.

The 12th Annual Butterfly Release was sponsored by Friends of the Parks, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department.

At no cost, children and adults were invited to hold a small green envelope encasing a multi-colored painted lady or an orange and black monarch butterfly. The crowd of families waited anxiously for 3 p.m., when all envelopes were unfolded, and the butterflies simultaneously flew to freedom.

Terri Anne came from Dahlonega for the butterfly release with her grandchildren.

"I’m amazed my four grandchildren didn’t squash them all," Anne said. "I don’t think they expected it to be as wonderful as it was."

Anne’s granddaughter, Tori Norman, a Dahlonega fourth-grader, said she released one butterfly, and it was "really cool and pretty."

Jere McMahan attended the event for the second time this year, but said to be able to release a butterfly for the first time this year was downright magical.

As a long-time lover of butterflies, McMahan said she’s got the blue butterfly tattoo to prove it. She said she plans to make the event an annual one.

"Being a part of it is what’s fun," McMahan said. "You’re communing with nature. I think it’s mostly for the kids, but some adults did it, too. I let my inner child play today. I really had so much fun."

Before the butterflies stole the show, children also raced paper sailboats in the creek winding through the park and had their faces painted with colorful butterfly markings.

The Girl Scouts had a booth set up at the event, as well as the Hall County Master Gardeners and Elachee Nature Science Center.

Connie Propes, chairwoman for Friends of the Parks, said this year marks the largest attendance for the event with more than an estimated 2,000 people. The turnout improved over last year’s 1,200 people. Food vendors even sold out of hamburgers and hot dogs Sunday.

Propes said the butterflies arrived to the park from Minnesota, and were stored inside coolers until the big moment.

"They have to be kept in a cooler, and they’re kind of dormant there," Propes said. "One little girl opened her envelope, and the butterfly seemed stunned and didn’t move at first. But then it wakes up and they fly off and go look for water and food."

Propes said staff from the Elachee Nature Science Center advised city park officials on what types of butterfly-friendly plants and fruit should fill the park gardens to keep the butterflies in the area. White clover and butterfly bushes were at the top of the list.

Roanne LaVere, camp director for the Elachee Nature Center, said she handed out pamphlets that instructed families on what to expect at the release and how to safely free the butterflies.

"They’re going to be hungry, and they’ve got to get the blood in their wings," LaVere said.

Coordinators of the release also spread several cases of fruit throughout the gardens allowing butterflies spreading their wings for the first time a chance to feast on flowers and produce.

"It seems they’re going to the strawberries most," Propes said. "And they love clover."



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