ROCKBRIDGE – More than just birds, bees and butterflies are welcome at Butterfly Ridge Conservation Center Ltd. – as of this week, visitors are too.

Butterfly Ridge, at 17864 state Route 374, Rockbridge, reopened for the season on Thursday. Home to thousands of native species of plants and insects, it’s also where owners and couple Chris and Kris Kline reside.

Butterfly Ridge opened in 2017 and averages about 2,500 visitors per season, Director Chris Kline said.

With the majority of its operation already outdoors – everything but the gift shop – the ridge saw a record-breaking number of visitors in 2020, much like nearby Hocking Hills State Park.

However, the ridge still lost revenue, and the majority of its visitors weren’t local; more people came from Ann Arbor, Michigan than Hocking County, Chris said. The Klines hope this season draws in more visitors from nearby communities.

The first butterfly spotted at the ridge this year 2021 was the eastern comma on March 6, Chris said. It is usually one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring.

However, there are two peak seasons for butterflies, Chris said. The first peak is in spring, from late May into early June. The second peak is in summer, from late July into early August.

A trip through Butterfly Ridge begins with a caterpillar house, passes through a wetland and fairy garden, and ends in a red pine grove forest. With about a mile of trails, a hike through Butterfly Ridge showcases the unique natural environment of southeast Ohio.

Surrounded by Crane Hollow Nature Preserve, the 21-acre site has been in Chris’s family since the 19th century, though he and Kris did not move there until 2015. Sections of the trail are about 100 years old, Chris said – where his grandfather farmed and mowed.

The Klines said much of the ridge’s plant life – and its butterflies – are collected locally, whether it be from Hocking County roadsides or through a Facebook group called “Ohio Native Seed Xchange.” Growing from seed is very gratifying, Chris said. Kris agreed.

“Approximately 95% of what we have is grown is from seed in our greenhouse,” Chris said. “After last year, (after) our total planting, we were up over 5,000 plants — and roughly 4,950 of those we’ve grown from seed.”

The Klines also rely on a private well and rainwater to water their plants, they said.

One may also notice piles of brush on a walk through Butterfly Ridge; but those too are butterfly habitats, Chris explained.

“It’s not because we’re nasty or lazy and don’t want to deal with our brush,” Chris said. “Here in Ohio, we have a handful of butterfly species that actually overwinter as adult butterflies... They hunker down in those brush piles, and that’s where they spend the winter.”

Certain types of trees are also home to specific butterfly species, he said. Beyond just pine and brush piles, some eccentric butterflies call hackberry trees home.

“Hackberry is critical because of two butterfly species that use hackberry as caterpillar hosts: the hackberry emperor and tawny emperor,” Chris said. “The cool thing about those butterflies is that they are extremely territorial and extremely aggressive about it. So when we bring tour groups through here, if either of those two species are flying, they will very actively try to chase you away – land on you, they’ll buzz, dive-bomb you – the whole nine yards.”

Butterfly Ridge is also home to carnivorous butterflies near its Homestead Loop, Chris said: the harvester, or feniseca tarquinius.

“The harvester is the only carnivorous butterfly in North America,” Chris said. “Rather than having a host plant, they actually have a host insect. Instead of the caterpillars eating leaves, they actually eat woolly aphids.”

The ridge’s wetland area is also notable for hosting dozens of swallowtail butterflies in the summer, Chris said. Almost 80 swallowtail butterflies were spotted at one time in the wetland area last summer.

There’s also a treehouse along the trail – on the highest point of the property, coincidentally. The treehouse overlooks Butterfly Ridge and its looped trail areas. In the summer, it makes for a lookout point to spot butterflies.

Butterfly Ridge also has a treasure hunting game for children, where they follow signs and answer questions to ultimately dig up a treasure. Many children enjoy the game, Chris said. The Butterfly Ridge Homestead Loop is also made for children, with a sandbox and up-cycled play structures.

Reservations are not required to visit Butterfly Ridge; admission is $5 and it is open Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours are hosted at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every day, and an upcoming bird walk, free with admission, will be hosted on Sunday at 9 a.m.

The Klines hope visitors leave Butterfly Ridge with more than just the sights and sounds of a pollinator’s preserve.

“What we truly want to get out of this is to get people to do (it on) their own,” Kris said. “(They can) get information from us so they can create their own magic, their own garden, their own possibilities – (for) whatever pollinators.”

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