Tropical butterfly house, demonstration garden slated for fairgrounds

(From the Missoulian)


A 2,500-square-foot tropical butterfly house, an educational public kitchen and 2.5 acres of fruit and vegetable demonstration gardens are coming to the Missoula County Fairgrounds sometime in 2021.

The nonprofit Missoula Insectarium is propelling its already robust partnership with the Missoula County Extension and Weed District, and the two organizations are joining forces on what could be a $10 million new facility. It will be located on the far northeast corner of the fairgrounds, which is undergoing a major redevelopment over the next few years.

“If all goes well we hope ground will be broken by about this time next year,” said Glenn Marangelo, the development and community relations director at the Missoula Insectarium. “We’re over the moon. This is the vision we’ve been working on for a long time and we’re excited.”

Marangelo said the new butterfly house will be a “total immersion tropical experience.”

“That’s the biggest, most exciting change,” he said. “And with the larger exhibit areas, we can double what we have now, so we’ll have a lot more species on exhibit. We’re already starting to plan what some of those things will be.”

The insectarium currently houses live insects and arthropods like walking stick bugs, whip scorpions and honey bees in its facility on Front Street, but its lease runs out in August. So, until the new building is built, it'll be doing educational classes at other organizations and will have a small exhibit at the Montana Natural History Center.

Jerry Marks, the longtime department head of the extension and weed district, said building a new facility has been a “dream” of his for a long time.

“It will bring a concept of a learning center, an exploratorium, a demonstration garden and demonstration kitchen,” he said. “People will be learning new things. It will be a new highlight to Missoula.”

Marks said he estimates the new facility will bring roughly 40,000 people a year to the fairgrounds.

It will include a master gardener’s lab along with the 2.5 acres outside for an educational garden.

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in locally grown foods,” Marks explained. “We get a lot of questions on more current fruits and vegetables for gardens. So in collaboration with the Western Montana Agricultural Research Center and other states and Canada, we’re exploring new fruit and vegetable varieties. This will give us a chance to put it in front of the public so they can decide if they want it in their yard or garden or whatever.”

The new building will allow the offices staff horticulturist, as well as a family and consumer science educator, to give classes on gardening, wildflowers, plants, nutrition enhancement and sustainable pest management.

“We have a lot of folks asking questions and wanting a more holistic approach, a more sustai