BY FRED RAMOS
MISSION — From Canada to California, thousands gathered Saturday for the 23rd annual Texas Butterfly Festival here. There to greet festival-goers were hundreds of species of North American butterflies. The cool November weather helped attract an even greater number of the colorful winged creatures.
“This is butterfly heaven,” said Sarab Seth. He traveled from Richmond, California to attend the festival and photograph the butterflies, which can be found nowhere else in the United States. “You get to see so many butterflies in one spot. This is my hobby and passion. I have a lot of fun taking photos of the butterflies.”
The National Butterfly Center in Mission includes dozens of plants, and whose sole purpose is to attract various species of butterflies. In addition to the 100-acre botanical garden, the wildlife refuge includes walking trails, observation areas and educational exhibits.
Barbara Turner is a Winter Texan from Ontario, Canada. She said she made a point to attend the butterfly festival because she considers it the Valley’s premier nature event.
“I’m very impressed with the festival. It’s very lovely. The kids are all having a wonderful time,” said Turner. “I brought my camera to get some pictures. Butterflies are getting rarer and rarer, so places like the butterfly center are unique. It’s wonderful to keep the butterflies around us. We need them.”
As Turner speaks, hundreds of butterflies swirl like a miniature funnel cloud around her.
But in recent years, a political battle has been brewing, that many people feel is jeopardizing the future of the Texas Butterfly Festival and the National Butterfly Center itself. President Donald Trump promised to build a wall along the Rio Grande, to prevent undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. A portion of the center sits along the river.
“I came to the festival today because I heard that they might be putting the wall through here, and I wanted to visit the festival. I have never been here before,” said Austin resident, Marilyn Orton. “I hope they don’t put up a wall.”
National Butterfly Center Director Marianna Treviño-Wright agrees the nature preserve would suffer if a wall is built along the Rio Grande. She says local habitat would suffer lasting harm at the hands of the federal government.
“We have a great home here in the Valley that we need to protect. We’re not being invaded. We’re not suffering violence like cities like Washington, D.C., Nashville and Chicago. We live in peace” said Treviño-Wright. “We’re the people of the United States. We are not some ‘other’ that is being demonized and we’re not having our community destroyed by people who have never been here. This place is ours to protect.”
Treviño-Wright says the National Butterfly Center is also a vital economic force in the Rio Grande Valley. Butterfly enthusiasts, from all over the United States and the world, travel to the Valley to marvel at the elusive winged-wonders. She says a border wall would have a negative effect on the local economy.
“The festival each year attracts thousands of people,” Treviño-Wright said. “They spend a tremendous amount of money. They fill up hotels, they rent cars, the eat at restaurants, and they buy airfare. So, it is an economic boon. Nature tourism contributes six billion in just tax revenue to the state of Texas.”
The center also showcases animals and plants, in wild and in cultivated settings.
“I’m so happy to see so many people who appreciate nature,” said Austin resident Roselyn Cliffton as a cool breeze filled the botanical garden. “There are a lot of children here. It’s important to pass it along. If you don’t love nature, it will just be destroyed.”