COLE — Kay Webb said there was a time when she expected to see large groups of monarch butterflies flying about her small McClain County community. "Years ago, they would cover the fields, and the trees would just be orange, there were so many of them,” Webb said. A freeze reduced the monarch population, but the colorful insects still converge on Cole about this time of year, she said. In 2008, Webb, 65, and other Cole residents celebrated their city’s distinction as a stop on the monarch’s central flyway to Mexico. They held their first butterfly festival last October, expecting about 150 people, but 400 showed up. Saturday, Cole will again welcome butterfly enthusiasts, gardeners, children and others hoping for a chance to see the delicate creatures on their annual journey. The second annual Monarch Migration and Butterfly Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. will include a Parade of Butterflies, monarch release and other activities. "I would describe our festival as quaint — homey, but very festive,” Annie Hart, festival coordinator, said with a laugh. Hart and Webb said they found out that about 80 percent of the monarch population was lost after a hard freeze in 2002 at the insects’ nesting sites in Mexico. Hart said part of the reason for the festival is to educate people on ways to help the species thrive after such devastation. To that end, the festival will include educational opportunities for people who want to know how to create a butterfly garden and butterfly migration. Hart said she and other Cole butterfly enthusiasts learned that milkweed, called a host plant, is an ideal plant for monarchs to lay their eggs. "While it may not be pretty, it is essential to the monarch’s survival,” she said. Hart, 57, said the host plants will be sold at the festival. Also, some seeds for the nectar plants that butterflies need for survival will be given away at the event. One of the highlights of the festival is the butterfly parade, where people are encouraged to dress up as a butterfly or caterpillar. Hart said it was fun to see many children wearing butterfly wings as they participated in last year’s parade. She said festivalgoers may stop by a face-painting station to get their faces painted with a butterfly design so they also can be a part of the parade. Hart said another activity that captivated last year’s festival attendees was the monarch release. Hart said so many people wanted to release the butterflies last year that organizers probably will raffle off the chance to free them at this year’s event. Hart said Cole firefighters served food at last year’s festival but ran out due to the larger-than-expected crowd. She said food vendors will be on hand Saturday, so no one will go away hungry. Hart said the festival date was chosen because it is the estimated time for the monarchs, traveling in large numbers called congregations, to visit Cole on their way south. However, she said the weather may have alternate plans for the butterflies. "It can blow the butterflies east or west of Cole. If there’s a south wind blowing against them, they’ll lay low for the day,” Hart said. She said the festival will go on with or without the anticipated monarch migration sighting. "We can’t guarantee that we’ll see congregations, but we’ll still celebrate,” she said.
Butterfly Festival→When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Parade of Butterflies is at noon. Monarch release is at 2 p.m. →Where: Cole Community Center and Park, State Highway 74B and Main Street. →Cost: Free. →Information: 485-2962.