Elkton’s Butterfly Playground

July 22, 2016 (Updated June 21, 2018)

Oregon’s summer season is a blissful time marked by long warm days that invite you to linger longer in the outdoors.

In one small town, it’s also the busiest time of the year for the flying insects that some say, speak to our hearts: butterflies!

In Elkton, the local residents are doing amazing things to help Oregon’s native butterflies flourish. The community’s efforts prove — if you build the habitat, the butterflies will come.


Step inside the 30-acre Elkton Community Education Center and be prepared to be amazed.

“I think every one of us has a memory of a butterfly dancing across the sky,” notes Elkton Community Education Director Marjory Hamann. “It’s that sense of awe and how still people can become when they have direct engagement with the butterflies — it seems to be touching something in every one of us.”

Nature reigns supreme inside the Butterfly Pavilion, where monarch and painted lady butterflies seem to pose or preen while you are held spellbound watching them come to life.

Grace Whitley is a sophomore at Elkton High School and she can tell you much about each of the butterfly’s life. For example, a butterfly’s vision is amazing because each has up to 17,000 eyes. Plus, the tiny insects can see color up to 100 feet away.

Whitey and 17 other local students work at the center following a passion to teach visitors about each phase of butterfly life.

“They smell with their antenna, they taste with their feet and then they eat with their proboscis, which is their tongue,” says Whitley with a giggle. “They are fascinating creatures in every phase of their lives.”

The Butterfly Pavilion is but one stop at this unique Oregon destination that sprawls across a former sheep pasture. Since 1999, local residents have transformed the property into a botanical garden that grow scores of butterfly-friendly plants.

Two years ago, Barb Slott, a retired wildlife biologist who’s now one of the Center’s Butterfly Stewards, moved to Elkton after just one visit to the Education Center. Now, she’s a regular volunteer — as are scores of other residents.

“To come and see this resource in a town of just 200 people just blew me away,” notes Slott. “Our community of Elkton is concerned about itself! We want to see this as a place for families and retirees and for businesses to grow.”

The center also grows much-in-demand native plants and flowers that you can buy. For example, you will find Milkweed, a host plant for monarchs during their caterpillar phase, or the gorgeous perennial flower Bee Balm, which provides nectar during the monarch’s butterfly phase.

The Elkton Community Education Center was recently awarded a grant from the Travel Oregon Forever FundThe generous financial aid will allow the center to grow more plants and conduct even more workshops for visitors.

“It’s extremely helpful to have a source of funding that says, ‘We’ll front you the money first, while you get your legs under you and then let it be self-sustaining over time,” says Hamann.

The Elkton Community Education Center is a remarkable example built around the simple premise, a small town can do great big things!

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.