NAVARRE — If you planned on seeing beautifully patterned and colored native butterflies at Navarre Park this Saturday when the Panhandle Butterfly House usually opens, you won’t find them there.
Where did they flutter to? For now, that’s a secret.
But Mary Salinas said the nonprofit Panhandle Butterfly House, after 21 years on the Santa Rosa Sound at the foot of the Navarre Beach Bridge, plans a metamorphosis in an undisclosed location.
“There’s nothing that we can say in public yet about that,” said Salinas, a residential horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator at the University of Florida/IFAS extension office in Santa Rosa County. “Once we have a completed plan and everything is approved, then we’ll go public with that.”
The popular butterfly attraction is an educational and interactive exhibit that opened in 1997. It draws more than 14,000 tourists a year from around the world to view the butterflies in their natural habitat. People witness caterpillars chowing down on their favorite food; find pin-sized eggs under a leaf; and observe a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis.
The award-winning native exhibit featured butterflies bought weekly from a farm that raises them in “clean condition.” They are then cooled and shipped overnight.
The exhibit was forced to move when Santa Rosa County decided to do an estimated $6.3 million renovation to the scenic waterfront park. To justify spending taxpayer money on the house, the nonprofit had to prove it could be self-sustaining. However, the five-member County Commission rejected the business plan in 2018.
When the 2018 season ended, volunteers released the remaining butterflies to the wild. Volunteers also salvaged plants and fixtures for its new location.
County Engineer Roger Blaylock said the project calls for new stormwater drainage, landscaping, children’s playground equipment and other improvements.
“It certainly is going to be an asset to the county,” Blaylock said.
However, the Panhandle Butterfly House, while it has continued fundraising and its programs, will be gone.
People can follow the popular exhibit on Facebook or website for the latest information. The organization’s website currently proclaims: “Please stay tuned for news on our new & better facility to come! We plan to be up & running in 2020!”
Meanwhile, butterfly aficionados continue to post comments on the Panhandle Butterfly Facebook page expressing their support and asking impatiently for an announcement on its new location.