The Beauty of Butterflies

Get Back to Nature at Friends of Butterfly Gardens

by Tim Froberg

As a child growing up on a farm near Shiocton, Jack Voight had a fascination with butterflies and the wonders of nature.

Voight’s interest in the gorgeous, winged insects only accelerated through the years, and he’s made it his mission to share his love of butterflies.

Voight and his wife, Marty, are founders and owners of Friends of Butterfly Gardens Inc., a beautiful, seven-acre, privately-owned nature preserve in Appleton designed to inform and educate the public about butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and even reptiles such as turtles and snakes.

The Voights opened the nature preserve in its present location at N2550 State Road 47 in 2013 but were forced to shut down last summer due to the global pandemic. They reopened June 1 as a nonprofit and under a new name (it was formerly known as Butterfly Gardens of Wisconsin LLC).

The gardens will be open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The daily admission fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children, with children two and under admitted free. The gardens usually draw between 5,000 to 7,000 visitors annually.

Social distancing measures will be observed, but masks won’t be required.

“Last year was a strange year for us, so we’re looking forward to having the public come back out again,” said Jack Voight. “There’s a lot of great nature-oriented things to do out here.

“To me, this is a passion and a hobby. There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching kids with their parents and grandparents interacting with various types of insects, especially butterflies. My hope is to make this the first state butterfly park in the nation.”

The highlight of a visit to the gardens is a trip through the butterfly hoop house: an enclosed, greenhouse-like area with a sheeted cloth over the top. It’s home to more than 200 fluttering butterflies and up to 20 different species, including the star attraction: the gorgeous monarch. It is believed to be the state’s largest hoop house and allows visitors to interact with the butterflies and snap a few photos. Visitors are often given a Q-Tip dipped in Gatorade which draws butterflies and gets them to land on the Q-Tip, providing a close-up view.

A two-acre, butterfly-shaped maze is also a big hit with visitors, along with a honey bee observation hive where the bees can be observed making their honeycombs. Dr. Rich Merkhofer serves as the garden’s beekeeper.

The butterfly gardens also get visits from Sue the Snake Lady who brings assorted non-venomous snakes and educates visitors on the slithery reptiles. A walking trail, a pond with frogs and tadpoles, an observation tower, and a gift shop are also part of the gardens. Jack eventually hopes to eventually have a waterfall available.

The staff at the gardens is knowledgeable and friendly, providing visitors with a wealth of information about butterflies and other pollinators.

“To me, the educational part is the most important part about going to the gardens, and I think people enjoy the education we give them about butterflies and other pollinators,” said Marty Voight, a long-time teacher in the Appleton area. “A lot of people don’t know that bees and butterflies help create a third of the food we eat. So, their existence is very important, and their habitat is threatened.

“People mostly enjoy the hoop house because they’re here to see butterflies. But they really like the observation beehive, too, where they can watch the bees make their honey and raise the babies and take care of the queen. People are really interested in finding the queen bee and we give them information about it.”