ELKTON — Memorial Day weekend is officially the start of the butterfly season at the butterfly pavilion in the Elkton Community Education Center.
The center opened on Saturday for the summer season and plenty of the Painted Lady butterflies are already flittering around the garden. Later in the season, the beautiful Monarch butterflies will start arriving during their migration.
ECEC executive director Marjory Hamann said the butterflies have been attracting more people every year to the center and they’ve had visitors stop in from all over the country — and even some from foreign countries. Attendance at the center has been growing every year, and it’s now over 4,000 visitors a year.
“What we’re looking at is how we can use our center to help generate rural economic development,” Hamann said. “We have a very successful youth employment program, and we’re looking at ways we can help generate income for people in the community.”
At the peak of the season, the center will have 300 to 400 Monarch and Painted Lady butterflies in the pavilion, in all stages of the life cycle. They’ve been a good draw to get people to stop and visit the ECDC and spend a little time in Elkton.
Education coordinator and volunteer Kris Hendricks said they want to educate people about the butterflies and how their numbers have been declining. But she feels the pavilion has made a significant impact on the numbers of butterflies.
“We are part of a research program, through Washington State University, that is studying the migration and diversity of the west coast Monarchs,” Hendricks said. “We actually tag butterflies that we release, and about 5 percent of our butterflies that have been tagged have been spotted in other locations.”
The tagging program has found that the Monarchs go as far north as the Canadian border and as far south as Monterey, south of San Francisco.
Hendricks got interested because she was concerned about the declining numbers.
“A lot of it is because of the destruction of the milkweed — it’s the only thing they will lay their eggs on, and their caterpillars only eat milkweed,” she said. “Our emphasis is on the Monarchs, so we have milkweed for them to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to eat.”
The center also offers milkweed plants for sale, to help people improve the butterfly habitat in the area.
“They’re almost like a sentinel species, an indicator of the environment,” said Sue Butkus, who came to Elkton as an Americorps Vista volunteer and liked it, so she stayed.
Austin Burkhart, of Oakland, brought the family, with three little ones, to see the butterflies; and they liked what they saw.
“We wanted to come and check out the fort and just have a fun family day, and all they wanted to do is see the butterflies,” Burkhart said. “I love the place, it’s been a blast.”
Elkton was just recently named as an official Monarch Village USA for their efforts to increase the population of the Monarch butterfly. The mayor of Elkton will officially proclaim the city as a Monarch Village at a ceremony on June 23.
The ECDC and the butterfly pavilion are are open 9 to 5 p.m. every day through Labor Day weekend, which is the end of the butterfly season, and Fort Umpqua Days celebration in Elkton.
There is no charge to get in, but the volunteers do welcome donations to help them run the center.