25 August 2008

Muskogee OK Learning Garden and Butterfly Sanctuary

Butterfly Love



Tourism proponents say Muskogee’s natural resources already are drawing tourists and will bring more with an addition to Honor Heights Park.

Matthew Weatherbee, a member of the Muskogee Parks and Recreation Board, recently presented plans for a butterfly garden and sanctuary to the Public Works Committee.

The garden is a highlight of a larger plan called Birds, Blooms and Butterflies, which has been under development for several years.

Weatherbee says the garden will fit in nicely with existing projects.

It’s a part of a trend in ecotourism; a lot of people are visiting natural attractions like lakes, rivers and gardens rather than amusement parks,” he said. “So, it fits in with Muskogee’s tourism plan.

Other cities have been responding to public interest, Weatherbee said, a fact revealed in research done by Muskogee Parks and Recreation.

We looked at other cities have similar facilities, like Wichita, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, he said.

These butterfly houses have a really big appeal, not only for kids, but for adults also. When you have something that attracts the entire family, then it has a bigger tourism impact.

Weatherbee said the garden also will expand the number of people visiting Honor Heights Park.

Honor Heights Park is Muskogee’s No. 1 tourism attraction right now, but much of that is two times a year; the Azalea Festival and the Garden of Lights, he said. With the butterfly sanctuary and teaching garden, we’ll be providing an attraction to extend that tourism spike from summer into fall. The teaching garden will be fenced in with educational aspects including information about each plant and how they attract butterflies. There will be hours of operation, staff and an admission fee.

Based on the research and planning done so far, Weatherbee is optimistic about the tourism public embracing the garden.

I expect that it will be so successful that it won’t be long before we’re expanding it, he said.

That will make it even more attractive and provide more reasons for the visitor to return.”
Treasure Ruttman, vice president of Tourism and Marketing at the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce, said that ecotourism is an idea introduced by a consultant.

This started in 2004 when the city hired Seth Davidson; he was all about ecotourism, she said. He came and reminded us of all the wonderful resources we have. Out of that, ‘Birds, Blooms and Butterflies’ was developed as a tourism product. It has been ongoing ever since.

Ruttman said all the pieces are coming together. Bird-watching already is popular and growing, the flowers at Honor Heights already are a big tourism draw each year, and the butterfly garden will complete the concept.

We already have all three products; all we have to do is package and promote them,” she said. Ecotourism is successful because a large part of tourism is learning. More people are taking vacations not just for the enjoyment. They want to see, touch and feel their vacation.

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