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Nature Center dedicates butterfly house

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OKOBOJI, Iowa -- Butterflies were the guests of honor at a special event Saturday in the Iowa Great Lakes.

A new facility, Dee and Kate's Butterfly House, was dedicated Saturday morning at the Nature Center on 170th Street in Okoboji. Although the winged creatures were scarce, perhaps choosing to stay sheltered from the damp and cool 53-degree weather, they were feted with a short ceremony and several special events hosted by the Dickinson County Conservation Board and The Conservation Foundation of Dickinson County.

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According to Dickinson County naturalist Barbara Tagami, the butterfly house will be used to monitor monarch larvae in conjunction with a University of Kansas project.

"We will raise monarch larvae during the summer at the butterfly house, and then we'll also have a tag-and-release event in September when the migration goes through," she said.

Although the butterfly house is small, Tagami said there is already talk of expanding it, and someday she envisions a facility with a tropical environment where people can view butterflies all year long. But right now, the Nature Center is viewed as more of a "way-station" for the monarchs, with a butterfly garden featuring milkweed and brightly colored flowers such as orange and yellow cosmos surrounding the butterfly house.

"We'd like to have this whole area metamorphose, transform, into an area for butterflies," said Tagami during Saturday's ceremony.

The project was funded through a donation from the Maser Family Foundation and spearheaded by local resident Delores Maser. Wearing a coat brilliantly appliquéd with butterflies and flowers, Maser explained the facility's name, which she said represents the past, the present and the future.

"Dee is my nickname," she said, referring to the present reference. "When I was a girl, I was called Dee. ... And actually, there are two Kates."

The first Kate-- the Kate of the future-- is a young girl of Maser's acquaintance who comes with her family to the Okoboji area each summer. The second Kate, referencing the past, is Maser's maternal grandmother, who taught her to love nature, and butterflies in particular, during summers spent on a farm near Pella, Iowa. Maser was given the chore of churning butter to go with her grandmother's freshly baked bread.

"To me, that was a big chore, but Grandma Kate would set up a small table and chairs in the flower garden, and I'd sit there and churn the butter. ... She told me to watch for the butterflies. 'The more butterflies you see, the better the butter will be.' Of course, being a young girl, I believed that."

Maser's grandmother also had her sit in the grass, with small dishes of red Kool-Aid surrounding her to attract the butterflies.

"When they'd land on me, Grandma Kate would tell me 'That's a kiss from your own special angel,'" Maser related. "What kid wouldn't sit quietly and patiently if they were waiting for a kiss from their own special angel?"

Maser wanted to create a butterfly house in the Iowa Great Lakes Area so that future generations of children can have similar experiences.

"I hope this will be a place of joy and inspiration for young children to love and learn about Mother Nature," she concluded.

In the days leading up to the butterfly festival, local volunteers caught enough monarchs to have a small-scale tag-and-release event on Saturday. Wesley Carlton, 3, helped his dad affix a small sticker bearing a number to a monarch's wings, before they carefully took it outside the tent-like shelter and watched it fly away.

"Your butterfly's going to fly all the way to Mexico, Wes. Can you believe that?" father Rick Carlton asked his son.

"But I want it to stay in Okoboji," Wesley replied.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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