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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

Monarchs–-One generation flies south but it takes four generations to come home north.

By Lois Barton

Posted on Aug 27, 2004

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"A Monarch Butterfly" at the Butterfly Pavilion at the Elkton Community Education Center, photo by Susan Thomas

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Elkton, Oregon, where there is a Butterfly Pavilion. Following a leading to learn more about such a place, my friends, Sue M. and Susan T. and I drove south over forested hills and west on Highway 38 to that small lovely village above the Umpqua River to investigate.

We learned that the Butterfly Pavilion is a project of the Elkton Community Education Center. We were given a tour of the grounds by Carol Beckley, who is Program Coordinator of the Elkton Community Education Center. This report is based on an interview with Carol. She explained how it all started and what progress has been made.

Carol Beckley: "In the mid-nineties I bought this thirty acres. My partner, Jim Gates, thought I was crazy but when I told him what I wanted to do he said that would be great... There was a mobile home on it and a big shop when I bought it. He has designed and built the butterfly pavilion, the amphitheater, the garage/preschool renovation and sheep shed/roadside stand renovation. The aerie playground item was designed and built by our board chairman Jeff Smith who is a contractor." We were being given the grand tour of the Elkton Community Education Center by one of the first organizers. Ah! Where a leading can lead...

Elkton is a village of 145 people in the coast range a few long miles south of Eugene and west of the interstate highway, I-5, to California from the Willamette Valley. Carol was looking for something to do with "the rest of her life." The Elkton Community Education Center is what she found to pursue. Here is her story in her own words: "The first need we saw was for a preschool. They had eliminated that at the regular school and there was no childhood development program. So we renovated the garage and turned it into a preschool.

"Play Structure and Osprey Nest," designed and built by Jeff Smith, Chair of the Board of the Elkton Community Education Center, photo by Susan Thomas

"Then someone decided, well, maybe we needed a library here, so they started donating books and we have a library. There is a meeting room up there and we have a room for the history of this area in its own space. It might include writers of the area or writers about the area.

"We applied for a nonprofit status and were granted that in 1999. With that established, our mission was to have multi-generational programs. So we have an art show going all the time. After-school classes and robotics," (Yes, robotics! ) "and art classes, and concerts, and a book club, a coffee and gift shop. We have many volunteers. At our volunteer dinner there were sixty volunteers and that's pretty significant for a town that has only 145 people.

"The next thing we did was related to the environment. We started the Native Oregon Park. Sixty-five people planted it in one day. Four and a half acres has all the trees and shrubs of Oregon in it. As the over-story grows up we will start putting in the ferns and flowers of Oregon. It is (organized) by climate zone. Desert plants are surviving, too! A young lady has created unique art signs combining color figures and line drawings. Such a sign may say, 'You are in the coastal zone and as you walk through you will see the plants that are native to that area.' "

With this background, I asked about the Butterfly Pavilion which was the focus of our trip. Carol explained, "That was the next step or project we did with the environment. We wanted something that involved plants and the local community, and the public and the environment. So we decided to have a butterfly pavilion. We started researching and found there are two types.

"One type is where you can raise and release butterflies and the other type is where you can have only the exotics. They bring the chrysalises in and let them hatch out and the butterflies feed on nectars. Those exotic places have lots of prettier butterflies than we do, but our mission was to raise some (natives butterflies) for the environment because only five percent survive in nature. A female lays eggs. She can lay as many as 800 eggs. They usually don't lay that many, but of what they do lay, only five percent become mature butterflies. We are increasing that to approximately ninety percent.

"We cleared this with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to be absolutely sure we weren't violating any environmental restrictions. They allowed us to grow nine different varieties that we could release, only thirty at a time, into the environment so it won't impact inordinately. But we only know how to grow in captivity about four kinds, The rest are on the property because we already put the host plants in. We see them all the time and there are more butterflies out than in. We have all the varieties that Oregon State will allow us to grow."

I asked, "How do you get them started here?"

"In the spring we get some from suppliers, larvae or chrysalis, from a reputable grower west of the Rocky Mountains." We were now in a screened room about 20 by 8 feet and possibly 10 feet high. There were plants in that room on which the females lay eggs, and plants providing nectar for the mature butterflies. Carol examined leaves of one plant looking for larva. "This plant attracts painted lady butterflies. They had some eggs on them. Hopefully they have turned into larva. There are a lot of predators. Earwigs eat butterfly eggs, and ants and aphids do. Most any kind of bugs."

I was watching butterflies against the screens trying to get out of the closed area. They were Monarchs, Carol told me. Then we went into another room where there were dozens of pint-sized containers on a row of shelves, each one having a leaf and a larva in it.

"Butterflies Jaying," with Carol Beckley, author Lois Barton and Susan Thomas, photo by Sue Monahan

She pointed out three or four at the end of the top shelf that had "jayed." They were fat larvae hanging from the top closure of the jar in a jay shape. She showed me some of them that had turned into chrysalises.

"This is a monarch larva. The painted lady uses a mallow leaf." We looked at buddlea plants. "There are eight varieties of buddlea," she said. "They like them for nectar. We have four different nectar plants that are the same ones that all butterflies use. Buddlea, lantana, cone flower and zinnia. And we grow our own milkweed right out side."

Turning back to the jays, "They hang there for about one day. At the end of the day they will turn into a chrysalis. When they get ready they shed their skin five times and when they have shed their whole skin they turn into this chrysalis. Their antenna and their little feet are right here," (pointing to a black chunk below the hanging chrysalis.) "I describe this to children. 'You are putting on a green sleeping bag, pulling up from your feet like this and here's this thing on them (the antenna) and I say they are too hot and they throw their pajamas out the top. They understand all that.' It takes about five minutes to make the chrysalis.

"See, here's one that just made a jay. The next step after this is, we cut out a little piece of a coffee filter and fasten them on that square so they can hang inside a netting cylinder until they become butterflies. After they hatch out in that enclosure they can hang on the netting until their wings dry out. It takes about ten to fourteen days depending on how warm it is.

"Butterflies in Wing Drying Tube," with author Lois Barton and Carol Beckley, photo by Sue Monahan

"The mature butterflies go into the screened enclosed area. We release thirty at a time about once a week. Maybe some of those left inside will lay eggs.

"Raising butterflies is not like any other kind of livestock. We sterilize all the food we give them. We put it in a ten percent bleach solution and we wear shoes in here. We have to sweep up a lot of the stuff. We try to keep it sterile in here. We wash our hands and do all that, so we won't spread any disease. It takes three days for the egg to become a larva, and from that time until they turn into a chrysalis they eat three thousand times their weight in those leaves."

I could see how much detail work was involved. Removing the larvae from the egg-laying area into their individual jars and adding the right kind of sterilized leaves, preparing each one to hang by its chrysalis in the special netting enclosure, taking mature butterflies back to the screened in enclosure and releasing the weekly allotment... In addition to all this there is care of the plants, both inside and out in the garden that make life possible for the adult butterflies.

"Coneflowers, butterfly food," in the habitat gardens of the Elkton Community Education Center, photo by Susan Thomas

"Monarchs from here will go from this valley to Carmel, California to winter. It takes one generation to fly down, and somehow they have a global positioning system in their heads that lets them know when they need to fly south. They fly about eighty miles a day. But coming back they don't do that. It takes four generations coming north. They sit down and have another generation, sit down and have another generation. So it takes four generations to come north. Some Monarchs go three thousand miles into Mexico. These don't do that, I think.'

We go outside to look at the milkweed. Carol explained, "This is a variety that comes back up year after year. There are over a hundred varieties. There are three here, actually four. These will, all but one, re-seed themselves so I don't have to plant them in the spring." The blossoms were fluffed out and Carol said, "People tell me that during the second World War they picked that fluffy stuff and used it to insulate flyers jackets like we used to use down for insulation. Everything else in this garden is a nectar plant or a host plant for egg laying."

Having covered the butterfly business, Carol took us on a tour of the thirty acres: down to the Umpqua riverside, around to see the amphitheater, the greenhouse for their own starts and the four acre garden. When we came back to the office area, she showed us work that was being done by student volunteers. The kids apply for the jobs, are interviewed and accepted or rejected. The impetus for volunteering is that many scholarships and many universities require that applicants have community service hours. When the kids complete the contract time based on their applications they often volunteer additional hours. They help take care of the butterflies, learn about the gift shop, work in the new coffee shop, take care of the garden. "One of the things they do here is research."

The student volunteers put together a complete book of native Oregon plants. Carol said, "They formatted it and figured out how to represent all the trees and shrubs out there in the Nature Park. I expected it would take them two years to gather this information, but they were done in two months! They are currently working on a book of plants which were food for Oregon Native American tribes. They got the names of plants from ethnobotanists.

"The students searched on the Internet every name that was once a tribe in Oregon. When they have the information about the plants, they will visit some of the tribal members and experts in the field to confirm their traditional foods and fiber. With all this information in hand they have a kind of basis to talk from."

Carol was enthusiastic about how much those 14-to-18 year old students were learning, and how remarkably they developed talents and people skills as they worked. She noted that they could use this experience as they got into adult work areas. "People don't expect kids to be able to do what these youngsters are accomplishing, but I delight in their progress and say to myself, 'It is working!' I let the kids figure out how to accomplish each project.

"We haven't stopped yet. This whole organization is kind of an ameba. We just got a grant from Seven Feathers for $15,000 to complete the greenhouse. We'll be planting those native Oregon plants that had been food, or herbs for medicine or what was used for building, or whatever."

"Every year Elkton puts on a historical pageant. Last year we called it 'Echos of the Umpqua.' About 100 members of the community took part in it. There is another pageant scheduled for Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4 and 5, 2004) this year. Fort Umpqua Days."

The Elkton Community Education Center is a remarkable organization. One can hardly believe the myriad ways it has brought new life and excitement to this small community. Carol Beckley makes sure one understands that she is now just a part of what's going on, but obviously her skill, enthusiasm and talent have created a unique community program that enhances life for them all. The promotional brochure reads on the front page:"Community members working together to improve our small spot in the universe." Amen, Elkton!

For more information contact:
The Elkton Community Education Center, Inc.
15850 Highway 38 W
PO Box 684
Elkton, Oregon 97436
phone: 541-584-2692

Copyright ©2004 by Lois Barton

Did you like my story? Did you know West By costs at least $200/month to keep afloat? Sometimes this money comes out of the editor's family income and can be a drain on the reality of essential expenses to keep a home together. Just a one dollar donation from all of you would confirm your enjoyment and delight our hardworking editor and me. Wish I could tell you to your face that I'm glad you tuned in.


Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales
Send $10, plus postage of $1.50 to
84889 Harry Taylor Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery
Sauerkraut and All That
Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?
The Midwife- The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.
The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.
Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

And follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding!

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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