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November 9, 2004 > Butterfly Garden: A Hidden Treasure

Butterfly Garden: A Hidden Treasure

by Venkat Raman

Mark your calendar for Saturday, November 13, 2004, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.; the East Bay Regional Park District has planned a special event for dedication of the Butterfly Garden located at Coyote Hills Regional Park. The butterfly garden has been in operation since 1999, evolving and maturing due to the efforts of Naturalist Jan Southworth. A brand new portal to the garden - a specially designed gate to the garden area - will be the focus of the ceremonies during this event.

The butterfly garden, nestled in the Coyote Hills Regional Park, is located right next to the park office. It is open to the public on the second Saturday of each month, and accessible by appointment for school and other groups. Countless hours of volunteering goes into the maintenance and development of the garden, but management of the garden rests with Naturalist Southworth.

Jan Southworth has been with the East Bay Regional Park District for 28 years, splitting her tenure between the Coyote Hills Regional Park and Ardenwood Farm. During the eight years she spent at the Ardenwood Farm as a Naturalist/Interpreter, she had the occasion to experience and expound on the overwintering of Monarch butterflies on the farm property. (Ardenwood Farm's role as a seasonal habitat for Monarch butterflies has been covered in a Tri-City Voice article in the January 6, 2004 issue.) This exposure, coupled with her understanding of a vast decline in the butterfly population world-wide due to habitat loss, made her interested in establishing a garden dedicated to butterflies.

On reassignment to the Coyote Hills Regional Park about eight years ago, she spent her energy establishing a butterfly garden in the park. This garden now enables visitors to enjoy looking at the Monarchs (usually prominent in butterfly discussions) and other species of butterfly.

After the garden was in operation for several years, Jan felt it should have a catchy entrance that made a statement. She was taken with the circular doorways used by Hobbits in Lord of the Rings and wanted to fashion the entrance after that design. She and her husband Norm Kidder, supervising naturalist at Sunol Regional Wilderness, also in the East Bay Regional Park District, put their minds together and came up with a design for the gate. Jan secured a Community Service Award from Sun Microsystems to help pay for making the gate. After exploring different options and by a stroke of luck, they discovered that the Operations Supervisor at Coyote Hills, Kelly Barrington, was a metal work hobbyist and the gate became a reality. The gate, complete with a butterfly handle, now proudly stands, ready to be dedicated! Boy Scouts Troop 105 with Scoutmaster Steven Hutchings will be at the dedication ceremony on the 13th.

As you enter the garden, you can see colorful tiles created by muralist Nancy Pratt of Newark that depict different species of butterflies and some of their characteristics. This collection is expected to grow in time. As you wend your way through the garden, you need to keep a keen watch around you to see butterflies in varying stages of life. Caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies can be seen currently in the garden. In one corner, there is an impressive and intricate mural tiling by Nancy Pratt that illustrates children happily playing with Monarch butterflies. Along the border, different phases of a butterfly's life cycle are shown.

When you visit the Butterfly Garden, a binder full of pictures is available in the park office to identify different butterfly species in the garden. Work is also in progress, with the aid of volunteers, to improve handicapped access to the rear of the garden. Included in the confines of the butterfly garden is an old seal pool that was used in the 1970's by Stanford Research Institute as their Bio Sonar Lab. It is being refurbished as a future attraction in the garden!

One part of the garden is the Butterfly Vivarium, dedicated to teaching educators. The garden prepares five-gallon containers with milkweed plants suitable to be host plants for butterfly caterpillars. These plants are kept in an enclosed area and at a propitious time, the doors of this enclosure are opened to allow butterflies to enter and lay eggs on these host plants. The plants then end up providing a good environment for these eggs and caterpillars. The butterfly garden also hosts an Educators Academy, a one day intensive course on a Saturday when teachers from local schools are educated on rearing butterflies; at the end of the course, the teachers are given a five-gallon container each, ready to go the respective classrooms to be studied by the students. Imagine the interest metamorphosis is likely to evoke in young minds!

The new gates establish the ambience; the plants and flowers maintain it; man-made features like various benches, fountains, murals, etc. enhance it; but what makes it all worthwhile is the multitude of butterflies in full color and indescribable beauty. You must visit the Butterfly Garden and experience it firsthand.

For more information on Butterfly Garden and other attractions in the Coyote Hills Regional Park, please call (510) 795-9385. Please visit their website at The dedication ceremony is scheduled to be on November 13 from 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The Tri-City Voice article from the January 6, 2004 issue can be accessed here

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