Garrett Andrews

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May 24, 2014
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Elkton Community Education Center opens for the summer

ELKTON — The Elkton Community Education Center houses a number of community enrichment projects, including a butterfly hatchery, children’s library and a full-size replica of a fur trading post.

And that’s not all.

“We have bathrooms,” said Ellie Smartt, the ECEC’s library coordinator. “They’re a big draw.”

The woosh of Highway 38 traffic can be heard inside the library and all around the ECEC’s variegated grounds. The Umpqua River-adjacent nonprofit complex (and its four public restrooms) feed heavily on pop-ins from the coastal route, particularly during the summer tourist season.

It’s likely the center is popular with highway drivers because Elkton is one of the only intermediate stops between Interstate 5 and the Oregon Coast. But the unfamiliar must like what they see because donation boxes near the bathrooms do quite well, said Smartt.

Saturday was opening day of the ECEC’s summer season and benefit rummage sale. Informal polling suggests most people weren’t there just to stretch their legs.

“The ECEC is just the place most people go in Elkton,” said Smartt.

Founded in 1999, the ECEC today harbors an array of projects on its busy 30-acre grounds. Its summer season starts each Memorial Day weekend with the opening of its Outpost Cafe and butterfly pavilion. It’s also around this time the center puts its latest crop of high school-aged students to work.

The center was founded with two goals: 1) create a butterfly hatchery that would be an educational draw, and 2) employ high school-aged children of isolated Elkton

With regard to the first mission, the ECEC has established a successful monarch and painted lady breeding program housed in its butterfly flight room, now open. Concerning the second goal, this season the center is employing more kids than any previous summer, with 20.

The extra help will be dispatched to the center’s native plant garden, where the ECEC is now growing native plants for the U.S. Forest Service’s Fivemile-Bell Project, a restoration effort. Spirea, twinberry, sedge and ninebark will be grown indoors until they’re hardened off and ready to survive outdoors.

This year, the Butterfly Run at the Blooms and Butterflies event on June 21 will be renamed in honor of former ECEC board member John Bradley, who died in February.

And also new are two educational features funded by grants from the Oregon Community Foundation. Interpretive signs are headed for Fort Umpqua, and a fur-trapping display is now up in the library.

Though Fort Umpqua stood only briefly in historical terms (1836 to 1851), it’s considered significant in part because it represented the southernmost point of British expansion in North America. During that time, the Hudson Bay Company wanted not just its share of beaver, but all of them, to prevent competition in the market for beaver hats.

“They wanted to make this a beaver desert,” said Carol Beckley, founder of the ECEC.

Music venue. Roadside produce stand. Butterfly hatchery. Social enterprise. Youth employment program. If the functions of the Elkton Community Education Center read like a list of random organizations, it’s because the ECEC is the product of many minds, said Beckley, the center’s chief benefactor.

It’s a place where a retired third-grade teacher like Ellie Smartt can build a library where children can go to read.

“The neat thing about this place is that there are so many facets to it,” said Beckley. “We have enough room here for everyone with an idea.”

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated May 24, 2014 10:36PM Published May 24, 2014 10:36PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.