Wings in the Park pays tribute to butterflies

Saturday was perfect butterfly weather — sunny, warm and in the right habitat to pollinate at the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden at Tudek Memorial Park.

On Saturday, the Penn State Extension master gardeners held their fifth annual “Wings in the Park” to educate the public on ways to keep pollinator habitats alive while holding special events for children.

“The goal is to get people to make their own butterfly habitat in their home gardens,” said community coordinator Douglas Ford. “When they have questions about the garden, we can answer them and educate them on how they can raise their own butterfly habitat at their homes. People don’t understand that without proper pollination, we couldn’t do and have some things we have.”

Ford said there are between 30 and 32 species of butterflies at the garden, where about 300 children enjoyed activities like catch-and-release butterfly exercises, scavenger hunts, a shutter bug booth and live exhibitions.

Bob Snetsinger, also known as “Butterfly Bob,” said the garden was created in 1996 with six resident species of butterflies and a goal to educate the public about the importance of butterfly conservation and ecosystems.

“We really wanted to diversify the habitat for multiple different butterfly species,” he said.

“People may say ‘what a mess,’ but there is so much life out there,” added master gardener Pam Ford, about the butterfly garden full of flowers, bushes, trees and other brush necessary to maintain healthy butterfly homes.

About seven years ago, Ford said the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners joined that garden initiative and helps maintain it year-round.

“We use all seasons to education the public on pollinators,” Ford said.

He said during the winter, most people think there are no bugs. He explained that the bugs nest deep in the ground or in piles of brush to keep from the cold, and once spring approaches, resurface.

“We encourage winter brush buildup,” Ford said. “If they have nowhere to nest in the winter, we won’t see them in the summer. This is the kind of life cycle of insects and pollinators.”

This year, he said, there were about 150 volunteers who interacted with the public.

“It’s something nice to see when so many kids and families are out instead of stuck behind the TV,” Ford said. “It’s nice to get them involved in something we’re all passionate about.”

Maureen Vail took her two daughters Melanie, 7, and Myra, 5, to “Wings in the Park” for the first time where they were able to trot through the gardens and admire the butterflies.

“At this age, butterflies are something they really love so it was one of those things we heard about and wanted to check out,” Vail said. “They’re loving it.”

Melanie said looking at butterflies and getting her picture taken with her face surrounded by a giant wooden butterfly and learning its life cycle were her favorite activities.

Myra said she was able to catch a butterfly on her finger.

“We just encourage people to come to the park and check the garden out, even if we’re not specifically holding special events,” Ford said. “People can learn something they never knew about butterflies.”