Butterfly Festival comes off with flying colors

April 25 was one of those Saturdays made for family outings. The sun shone and a slight breeze blew through the leaves at Tree Hill Nature Center’s 8th annual Butterfly Festival.
The day was all about environmental education and family fun, “edu-tainment” as the organizers call it, and the numerous nonprofit organizations there made the most of it. Children at the Environmental Quality Division’s table used rings cut from plastic water bottles to make decorative bracelets against the backdrop of a poster titled, “When can I water?”
The Jacksonville Herpetological Society’s display swarmed with children waiting for a chance to touch, pet and hold an assortment of snakes. Society member Richard said they were there, “to raise awareness about reptiles and let people know they make great pets.” (www.jaxherp.com)
In addition to the entertainment and education offered by the nonprofits and various vendors, attendees enjoyed a variety of musical performances in the Joseph A. Strasser Ampitheater, noshed on delicious food and frolicked under a canopy that resembled a butterfly. The big attraction, however, was the butterfly tent. Mascot Bella Butterfly helped children don their butterfly wings, donated by Jaxport, before entering a netted tent filled with thousands of colorful butterflies. Guests were offered pieces of cantaloupe to attract the critters for photographs.
The “butterfly house” was the favorite part of the day for Olivia, a young girl from the Westside. When asked if some of the butterflies had landed on her, she said, “Yes. It tickles and I really like it.” Olivia’s mother, Kathy, did not know that such a place as Tree Hill existed until her company, Nelnet, became one of the sponsors of the festival. She says, “It’s wonderful here,” and plans to bring her daughter back.
Sandy Wilson, public relations consultant for Tree Hill, says that in the past the nature center focused on field trips for third grade students, but that this year they’re diversifying and will do field trips for all the various summer camps around town. They also do off-site demonstrations. The center is partnering with the biology department at UNF and Wilson says, “Partnering is the focus right now so nonprofits can offer more to the community.”
There were approximately 5,000 guests at last year’s festival and Wilson was pleased to see that the economy would not have much of an effect on attendance. “We’re doing great. We’re up to about 3,500 [attendees] right now and still have an hour and a half to go.”
As 4 p.m. neared, crowds gathered around Tree Hill’s Executive Director Lucy Cortese, Chairman of the Board Tim Hamilton, of Environmental Services, and Bella Butterfly, who also serves on the board, for “nature’s fireworks” – the release of 1,000 live native butterflies. The crowd participated in a countdown, the cage was opened and children squealed as the cloud of color flew over their heads.
Curtis, 9, of San Marco, said he thought the release was, “pretty cool” and so is having a place like Tree Hill Nature Center to go to in Jacksonville.
Tree Hill Nature Center, founded in 1971, comprises 50 acres of trails, a Florida Natural History Museum, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and native animal displays. According to its Web site, http://www.treehill.org/, “Tree Hill is a center of excellence for environmental education, conservation and awareness…” The Butterfly Festival, in celebration of Florida Butterfly and Butterfly Gardening Month, is held on the grounds at 7152 Lone Star Road every April.