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Friends of the Parks holds 14th annual butterfly release
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A butterfly lands on the hand of Joanie Turner during the 14th Annual Butterfly Release at Wilshire Trails Park Sunday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Some insects make you run out of the room in search of a fly swatter.

But others, like butterflies, can make you marvel at their beauty.

These delicate creatures were the highlight at Wilshire Trails Park Sunday as Friends of the Parks and Greenways held the 14th Annual Butterfly Release. At 3 p.m., 1,650 butterflies were handed out in individual packets, and released into the air.

“This marks the opening of the parks for the spring and summer season,” said Ben Hawkins, president of the Friends of the Parks and Greenways board. “It has become popular with the children, not only for the playground and the hamburgers and hotdogs, but also for releasing the butterflies.”

The event was free to the public but food was available for purchase to help offset the cost of the event, Hawkins said.

“We have sponsors that help us defray the cost as well, but it is still something that costs us money to do,” Hawkins said. “We don’t want to charge for the butterflies, but we do sell T-shirts to help raise money." The Gainesville Elks Club also helped provide food.

New this year, the group gave participants the option to “sponsor a butterfly.”

“If you make a $5 donation, you get to sponsor a butterfly, and you get a sticker of a butterfly, and that helps defray the cost as well,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said that the biggest challenge of the butterfly release is distributing the butterflies because kids are so anxious. That includes his two kids, Anne Hawkins, 2, and Benny Hawkins, 1.

Gainesville residents Julie Wingate and her husband Tripp are butterfly veterans, having attended for 10 of the 14 years.

Their daughter, Ellie, 5, has been coming every year since she was born.

“We just really enjoy it,” Julie Wingate said. “I think it is a wonderful way to get the community together and excited about the parks.”

Wingate said that they bring a picnic every year, and Ellie loves seeing the butterflies.

“This is the first year that she didn’t buy a butterfly shirt to wear,” Wingate said with a laugh. “We looked for a butterfly shirt, but we couldn’t find one.”

Wingate said that watching the butterfly release gets Ellie excited about nature and the parks in Gainesville.

“Insects are fun, and they are not all scary,” Wingate said. “They are very helpful in the environment, and children need to learn that everything in the environment has a reason.”

Friends of the Parks and Greenways is a Gainesville-based non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life by linking the community through parks, greenways, and open spaces, according to its website.

“We work with the city and the Gainesville Parks board to help promote not only maintaining, restoring and building new parks but also connectivity in our community,” Hawkins said.

With the completion of Rock Creek Greenway, Friends of the Parks has been able to turn its attention to the Midtown Greenway.

“The Midtown Greenway will eventually connect to the Greater Hall County Greenway,” Hawkins said.

“The master plan is that one day there will be a greenway that will go from here at the lake through downtown and all the way down to Gainesville State College and back for biking and that sort of thing.”

Regional events