Children and adults alike were swinging nets and chasing monarch butterflies, and a few dragonflies, along the Kansas Wetlands Education Center nature trail Saturday, during the annual butterfly festival. Some were successful, others not, but everyone was having a good time.
A total of 66 monarchs were tagged and released. The main migration has not yet arrived in this area, said Pam Martin, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism educational specialist. Every year is different, she said, and this year the weather has remained hot and dry, slowing the migration.
Just shy of 700 people attended the eighth annual event, from at least 10 Kansas counties.
“It’s phenomenal, getting that many people here to the Center,” said KWEC Director Curtis Wolf.
One family from Hays told Wolf this was their fourth year attending.
It’s neat to see how many repeat people that are here for their fourth or fifth festival,” Wolf said. “It’s become a tradition.”
For some attending for the first time, it was a special outing. Six women, who were classmates celebrating their 36-year class reunion, attended as a group. They bought the same shirts and painted them with butterflies.
Although many of the children said their favorite activity was catching butterflies, others listed the magic show, the insect zoo, making and slinging seed bombs, the crafts and butterfly mural, the dress-up booth and other activities. The mural involved children coloring how they wanted their hands painted on paper, then having their hands painted and applied to the cloth mural. Colorful hand-print butterflies fluttered around a large painted sunflower.
Melanie Falcon, Smoky Valley Middle School teacher, brought 14 fifth through eighth graders to the event. She started a Wild Club at the school that focuses on getting kids outside.
“I loved the magic show,” Falcon said. “I liked how they included educational information into it. I’d like to have the kids do something like that for the elementary students.”
Each activity has an educational component, said Martin, even the crafts. At the mural station, children could look at butterfly field guides to copy an actual butterfly’s coloration. The temporary tattoos were monarchs and zebra swallowtail butterflies.
The Barton County Master Gardeners provided information on composting and planting native plants for pollinators, and KWEC handed out 96 swamp milkweed plants in addition to information on how to assist pollinators. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, which is not as plentiful as it once was due to several factors.
“Hopefully, the event gets people to appreciate the complexity of nature and the amazing 2000-mile journey this small creature makes every year”, Martin said. “And who doesn’t like chasing butterflies?”