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Thanksgiving Point to add butterfly biosphere in 2018

LEHI — One of the Thanksgiving Point founders, Karen Ashton, dubbed the event held at the nonprofit's Water Tower Plaza on Monday as a "sky-breaking," rather than a groundbreaking, for its newest and fifth family venue.

As butterflies left their paper envelopes and took off to the skies, school children and adults, including Governor Gary Herbert, gasped at their fluttery, ethereal beauty, and the Butterfly Biosphere project was officially on its way to becoming a reality in fall 2018.

Herbert said the work of Thanksgiving Point is positive and uplifting, and this is a good example of a working partnership.

Lehi Mayor Bert Wilson said the vision of Thanksgiving Point is literally coming to life.

The $31.5 million endeavor will include a 8,400 square-foot greenhouse as well as interactive and educational exhibits and displays in the space previously occupied by The Emporium gift shop.

The tropical conservatory will be warm (around 75 degrees throughout the year) and filled with lush greenery and flowering plants. A variety of butterflies will fill the space.

Motivational speaker and philanthropist Barbara Barrington Jones, a major founder of the Butterfly Biosphere, said she wants the space to honor her mother, whom she called "The Butterfly Lady" at the event Monday. During her remarks, she described her mother chasing a monarch butterfly in her car in an effort to show it to her children.

Wearing a butterfly hatband and scarf, Jones said she believes butterflies are celestial creatures full of beauty and peace.

Debbie Bingham, who with her husband is also a donor, said the butterfly biosphere will be a world-class venue, one that schoolchildren will love and enjoy for years to come. She noted that children from Wasatch Peak Academy helped design the biosphere by offering their ideas and suggestions.

"This is the perfect gateway insect," said Thanksgiving Point CEO Mike Washburn. "Butterflies are all about art and potential."

He invited the event guests to munch a fried cricket or sample a muffin made with cricket flour as a way to begin thinking of insect life in new ways.

Eileen Quintana, Nebo Native American program manager, opened the ceremony with a blessing. The Nebo Eagle Dancers performed a colorful, fancy shawl butterfly dance.

Lorie Millward, vice-president of design and programming at Thanksgiving Point, said the butterfly biosphere will offer families exciting ways to deepen their appreciation of nature while spending quality time together.

"For centuries, butterflies and moths have intrigued and inspired humankind," Millward said. "They are a favorite subject of painters and poets because of their beauty and the seemingly magical transformation that occurs during metamorphosis," she said.

Millward pointed out that butterflies are also important to scientific researchers trying to understand pollination, navigation, mimicry and genetics as well as biodiversity and environmental health.

She noted that butterflies have strategies for surviving in places like Utah that have snowy, cold winters — some hibernate, some wait out the cold as eggs, and others burrow deep under leaf litter, spending the winter as caterpillars.

She said the butterflies will succeed and thrive in the Thanksgiving Point conservatory.