Butterfly Park gets new wings

One of several new tiles that have been installed showing the life of a Monarch butterfly at Gibbs Park in Huntington Beach.

It was something Butterfly Park had not seen in years — butterflies.

Parts of the 7-acre city-owned land, formerly known as Gibbs Park, served as an overwinter resting shelter for butterflies that were flying south to warmer temperatures.

But after years of neglect, the park began to break down and butterflies stopped coming.

That’s when the park received a new nickname from the residents — Scary Park.

Dead trees, homeless people and 3-foot-tall grass were all that was left of the insect rest stop, according to Park Restoration Coordinator Leslie Gilson.

Seeing the park not used to its full potential, Gilson set out to restore it to its original status.

“We wanted to get [the butterflies] back and we got them back,” Gilson said, as she examined the caterpillars along the park’s wall.

Now the park is filled with healthy eucalyptus trees and 400 new plants to accommodate for the butterflies and the grass is now mowed, with dogs and their owners taking casual strolls.

When Tina Stevenson, the education coordinator for the park, moved to the neighborhood in 1980, the space was already in a rut and was a scary place to be in, she said.

But after the restoration, Butterfly Park has become more welcoming.

“Now you hardly ever come through here where there aren’t any people walking through here,” Stevenson said. “It’s really well used now, which is nice to see.”

Gilson asked the Huntington Beach City Council in 2007 for help to get the project off the ground, showing council members storyboards she made that depicted the poor condition of the park.

But after mislabeling one of the butterflies on the storyboards, Gilson was approached by Jean Nagy, president of the Huntington Beach Tree Society, and offered help.

“Without the Tree Society’s support, nothing could’ve been done here,” Stevenson said.

With funding from the city and Nagy’s help, the group has raised and used more than $70,000 for its restoration efforts.

After the funding was secured, the city helped root 179 dead trees from the park.

Then on May 8, 2008, Gilson and group of volunteers placed more than 400 plants and brought the park back to life.

In addition to bringing back the butterflies, Stevenson is doing her part by educating local Boy Scouts and other residents about the monarch butterflies that migrate to the park every winter.

Gilson did her part and took a one-week butterfly internship in Florida, learning how to care for the insects.

“The butterflies are magnificent creatures and to teach these kids about it is just awesome,” she said.

During each educational session participants plant milkweeds — the plant caterpillars eat to survive.

Not only does planting the milkweeds allow for more butterflies to come spawn at the park, but it also gives the children a sense of ownership, Stevenson said.

A recent installment to the park is eight small tile circles, each depicting a life cycle of a butterfly, surrounding a large tile circle with the name of the park and paintings of butterflies glazed on top. The first large tile was installed in 1995.

Costa Mesa artist Lubica Selecka was selected by Gilson to create the tiles for the park.

“It was very interesting since the beginning and we came a long way,” Selecka said, adding that though tweaks were made to the sketches, Gilson’s vision was met.

Gilson added that she’s done thinking of new ideas to improve the park, but Stevenson butted in and told Gilson, “It’s never finished.”

“Let’s finish this project first then we’ll deal with everything else,” Gilson said.

Twitter: @acocarpio