A dirt lot once popular among drug dealers, prostitutes and transients is slowly metamorphosing into a meadow of artfully arranged rocks and native plants designed to help attract monarch butterflies.
The creation of Midtown Monarch Paradise Park on Thompson Boulevard near Chrisman Avenue took flight this weekend when more than a dozen people helped clear brush and carry rocks, said spokeswoman Gwendolyn Alley.
Alley, a college English instructor, planned the habitat last year after moving into a home adjacent to the lot and seeing hundreds of the black and orange butterflies coexisting with trash, transients and blight.
Based on a design she used for an earlier art project, Alley and fellow volunteers started this "Solmaze," a rock labyrinth on the ground arranged in a circular pattern. The maze will be a walking path lined with native, drought-tolerant plants.
A row of eucalyptus trees along one side of the small park plays host to hundreds of monarchs that migrate to Ventura every fall, Alley said. The butterflies nest between leaves and seek warmth from nearby rocks, she added.
Butterfly larvae feed on milkweed, which will be planted in the park, Alley said. Columbine and Western Tanger have been planted as well as other flora native to Ventura and the Channel Islands, she said.
Alley said people walking dogs or traveling to the beach have already stopped by to review the progress.
"It's a very human thing to find an open space and look out," she said.
Local resident and volunteer Willy Leventhal spent all day at the site Sunday--the longest day of the year.
"This was Gwendolyn's project for the solstice and it sounded fun to me. It's nice to get your hands in some dirt," he said after hauling dozens of rocks to the area.
"It kind of sets a standard," said 77-year-old volunteer Jack Biller, a midtown resident since 1955.
Biller and others dug a hole in the park Sunday for a donated sycamore tree to be planted in memory of L. M. "Manny" Paquette, a local firefighter born in Ventura in 1909 who lived in the midtown area.
Five additional tons of rock were expected to arrive today, Alley said. People interested in helping arrange the stones may stop by any day after 5 p.m., Alley said. Seedlings and cuttings of local native plants are needed.
For more information, call the Midtown Community Council at 662-2514.