By Leilani Roberts Ott
It’s been like a chrysalis or cocoon in waiting for five years. But on Saturday, the gray Georgia Pacific Butterfly House at The Papilion in Honor Heights Park will spread its wings.
The grand opening ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the first release of butterflies native to Oklahoma at 10:45 a.m.
Matthew Weatherbee, the president of Friends of Honor Heights Park Association, said guests won’t just be on the outside looking in.
“Go inside,” he said. “It’s a captive butterfly exhibit — up close and personal. They might land on your head or your shoulders.”
Mark Wilkerson, the Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department director, said the facility name, The Papilion, is a combination of two words — “papilio,” the Latin name for butterfly, and “pavilion,” or covered place. He said many volunteers, including Friends of Honor Heights, and businesses have been involved in the planning and funding, but Georgia-Pacific is the primary donor.
Inside the Papilion will be educational signs about the life of the butterfly donated by the Tulsa Zoo, whose butterfly exhibit closed, according to Trudy Sudberry. The zoo also donated the chrysalis house inside the Butterfly House. Sudberry is on the board of Friends of Honor Heights Park and is in training to be a Master Gardener, a program through the OSU Extension Center. She and other Master Gardener students spent this week removing tulips from the flower beds in The Papilion and planting themed beds. All the plants from cactus to roses were donated by Matthew and Lora Weatherbee, the owners of Blossoms of Muskogee.
“Hats off to Matthew and Mark,” Sudberry said. “They’ve worked on this five years. It wouldn’t have happened without them. I’m ecstatic for Muskogee. It’s important for the region.”
The large green grass area in the center of The Papilion will be perfect for events, Sudberry said. Because the butterfly gardens in Tulsa and Oklahoma City have closed, this will be a great place to visit, she said.
The butterflies will be a spring-through-fall attraction. Wilkerson said that would make it an extension of tourism for the park.
“The butterflies will get new people here,” he said.
The exhibit will open Saturday with butterfly releases at 10:45 and 11:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. About 300 butterflies are being shipped in from Florida. Later, chrysalis will be added. They take a week to hatch, Wilkerson said. Butterflies live only two or three weeks, so new ones will be ordered every other week, he said.
The admission charge of $5, adults; $4, seniors, students and military with ID; and $3, children 3 to 17 will be used to pay for the butterflies.
Outside the Butterfly House, there’s plenty to look at inside the decorative black iron fence that frames The Papilion. Master Gardener students David Redding and Stephen Kearney planted the tropical foliage bed with flowers including oleander, which Redding has seen growing only in Las Vegas, and a flamingo topiary.
“They’ve done a striking job with the hardscape and planting beds,” Redding said. “It’s beautiful.”
Sudberry planted three species of calibrachoa in colors of magenta, white and mixed in the flower beds around the edge of the iron fence.
Becky Lucht and Lynda Webb planted the succulent garden — all plants in the cactus family. They called the large flat cactus “teddy bears” and “Mickey Mouse.” The Master Gardener students were working toward their required 50 volunteer hours.
Johnny Broome, a board member of Friends of Honor Heights, made orange and red metal ribbons that stand in the center of two beds — the Oklahoma State University bed and the University of Oklahoma bed. His wife, Glenda Broome, who is also on the Friends board, said it was a “labor of love and strength.”
In the OU bed are red roses, red geraniums and other red and white ground color. In the OSU bed are black velvet petunias and Durango flame marigolds. A metal piece that looks like floating butterflies is surrounded by pink and purple flowers in one bed. Another bed has a blues guitarist, complete with sunglasses, surrounded by blue flowers.
“I am so proud to be a part of this,” Broome said. “I can hardly wait. It’s such a big dream for Friends of Honor Heights. I think it’s amazing.”
Wren Stratton of Muskogee Area Arts Council said the artistic beauty would continue as three wind sculptures are added to the beds. The council has bought one of the sculptures. Another was purchased by Dr. Todd Graybill and the third by Friends of Honor Heights. The art by a Kansas City artist has different motions.
Sudberry said three hand-blown flower ornaments would be added later.
“There’s going to be all kinds of art in there, some of it spectacular,” she said.
Stratton, who is a former mayor of Muskogee, said The Papilion is a “gift” through the collaboration of private and foundation money.
“It’s a huge accent to the park,” she said.
If you go
WHAT: Grand opening ceremony for the Georgia-Pacific Butterfly House at The Papilion.
WHEN: Ceremony activities are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and the Butterfly House will remain open until 6 p.m. Butterfly releases are at 10:45 and 11:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Honor Heights Park.
ADMISSION: $5, adults; $4, seniors, students and military with ID; $3, children ages 3 to 17; and free, Friends of Honor Heights Park Association members.
ETC.: Balloon release, with punch and cookies.