Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Kate Gorrie Butterfly House

June 10th, 2020

This week, the Watershed celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Kate Gorrie Butterfly House, which was opened to the public at a ceremony on June 10, 2000. The Butterfly House was built as a memorial to Kate Gorrie, a passionate volunteer who had dreamed of the Watershed having such a structure to educate children about the beauty and fragility of nature.

Jeff Hoagland, the Watershed’s education director, had seen a butterfly house at a nature center he’d visited and thought that building one here would add a compelling educational opportunity. Kate heard about the idea and she committed herself to raising funds to help make this dream a reality. Sadly, Kate did not live to see the project completed. The Butterfly House was a fitting memorial to Kate and her love for the beauty of the natural world. The Butterfly House has brightened the lives of tens of thousands of people over the years.

After her death, Kate’s parents, Tom and Meg Gorrie, said they saw the potential of creating a butterfly house and knew its success would depend on how one educates and encourages people to learn more about butterflies, as well as spreading popularity and knowledge with annual events like the Watershed’s Butterfly Festival. They also have created a Watershed internship in her name.

“The metamorphosis of the butterfly is something that children are fascinated about, and whatever you are looking to see, is what you see. That part is fascinating for everyone and children always attach themselves to the beauty, grace, and delicacy of the butterfly,” Tom said. “Hopefully, the butterfly house has had a positive impact on people, and on kids in particular, and helps them appreciate insects, flora, and fauna and do something that makes sure it is all there for the next generation.”

Kate enjoyed strolling along the trails and visiting the nature center, where Meg volunteered. “She loved the work the Watershed was doing and loved the fact that they protected the water and helped preserve land,” Meg said. “She loved that NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) and the D&R Greenway started at the Watershed. She felt it was a wonderful organization. Even as a teenager, she still embraced it. She was on my team.”

Meg said the peacefulness of the mornings, when she visits the butterfly house and weeds the garden inside the butterfly house, encourages her and visitors to slow down, observe nature, and speak in hushed tones. “There is a special feeling inside of the house – families visit and their voices get quieter. It is special for me to see the connections that happen.”

Like many things this year, the Kate Gorrie Butterfly House will look a little different from past years.  This cherished space will be an open-air garden where butterflies may be seen visiting flowers and laying their eggs on foliage. After you and your family tour the garden, feel free to enjoy the Watershed Reserve trails and look for some of these special plants and insects in our fields and forests.


Health and Safety on the Reserve

Keeping our visitors safe and healthy is our main priority at The Watershed Institute. Please refer to these guidelines when visiting the butterfly garden this year.

  • To maintain social distancing, only 1-2 family groups should be in the garden at a time
    • Be cognizant of others around you. If you see a group eager to enter the garden, give them some space to enjoy the butterflies
    • Keep your family group together while you tour around
  • Masks should be worn at all times while visiting the butterfly garden
  • Use your eyes to view our fragile six-legged visitors, not your hands
  • Cameras are welcome, but please do not use butterfly nets in the butterfly garden

Starting Our Butterfly Season

In a typical year, our Watershed Educators comb the butterfly house in search of overwintering butterflies. In particular, they are searching for the chrysalides of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. This insect remains in its chrysalis throughout the entire winter. When the weather warms up and the days become longer, they begin emerging from their chrysalides. 

This year, many chrysalides were kept safe from predators in a cool storage area in one of the buildings on the property. As spring progressed, the Watershed Educators moved all of the dormant insects inside the Watershed Center. A camera was set up and captured the wonderful display these butterflies put on when they hatch. Please watch this video and feel free to skip around. 

Making your own Butterfly Garden

A major objective of the Kate Gorrie Butterfly House is to provide much-needed habitat for many of our pollinator species. Growing and maintaining a butterfly garden at home is a great way to help butterflies and other native insects in their plight with habitat loss. Below are some tips and tricks to creating your own native perennial garden:

  • Plant a variety of native perennial plants. Choose a mix of plant species that will provide flowers throughout the season
  • Include caterpillar host plants. Each butterfly species will only eat certain plants while they are in their larval stage. Make sure you have plenty of these hosts, because caterpillars are hungry!
    • Milkweed: host plant for Monarch butterflies
    • New England Aster: host plant for Pearl Crescent butterflies
    • Common Violets, and other native violet species: host plant for Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies
    • Spicebush: host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies
    • Golden Alexander: host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies
      • Parsley, fennel, dill, carrot tops will be used as well
  • Don’t use herbicides and insecticides in your garden. These chemicals can be harmful to butterflies, caterpillars, and other beneficial pollinators that might come to visit
  • Lazy gardeners are a butterfly’s best friend! A lot of butterflies will spend the winter as caterpillars buried under leaf litter, or attached to old flower stalks in their chrysalis. When the garden is cleared out at the end of the growing season, these dormant animals get thrown away with the yard waste! Leaving your garden a bit messy will give these creepy crawlies a safe space to spend the winter

Be sure to check our website later this summer for updates on the range of butterflies visiting the butterfly house and for other updates!

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