What is it about butterflies? Like most folks, I enjoy watching them flutter around the flowers in the yard or the hanging baskets on the porch.
But there’s nothing like seeing butterflies up-close and personal (as in sitting on your shoulder) — and a great place to do just that is the Dahlonega Butterfly Farm on Castleberry Bridge Road just north of here near the gold rush town of Auraria.
The Dahlonega Butterfly Farm is the brainchild of Jo Ann Goldenburg. She’s passionate about nature, but especially about butterflies.
As a child, Jo Ann raised plants to attract butterflies. She would search those plants for caterpillars to bring home, putting them in “anything I could find.” Then she would feed the caterpillars, tending them until they formed pupae and adult butterflies eventually appeared.
Years later, and well into a career in Atlanta television, she realized that she still had a fondness for butterflies. She had an idea too — an idea for a full-scale butterfly garden — and so she sat down and put together a 17-page plan outlining her vision.
“Then,” she says, “I put it aside and let it sit for a year to make sure I wasn’t crazy.”
Meanwhile, she had become interested in the Dahlonega area.
“Dahlonega had always been my getaway spot,” she says. So she acquired 8 acres and then got to work, and the result is the Dahlonega Butterfly Farm. It opened just over three months ago, and it’s been drawing a steady stream of visitors ever since.
Where do the farm’s butterflies come from? They’re hatched from pupae (acquired from growers in Florida) in the so-called containment room next to the office and gift shop — and because butterflies typically live only two to three weeks, a steady stream of new residents is required. It takes about two weeks for new butterflies to emerge from the pupae in a process known as “eclosing.” After eclosing, the butterflies spend about 10 minutes pumping up their wings and then another four hours waiting for their wings to dry so they can fly. Then they’re transferred to the fully enclosed conservatory where they fly free — and where visitors like you and me can enjoy one-on-one interaction with these colorful delegates from the insect world.
At any given time, Jo Ann says, there are roughly 200 adult butterflies flitting about in the warm air of the conservatory, where the temperature is kept in the butterfly-friendly range of 86 to 90 degrees. That’s a little on the warm side for most folks, but the butterflies are so captivating that you won’t mind at all.
Inside the conservatory, a footpath loops through lush plantings of nectar plants (where the butterflies go to drink nectar) and resting plants (where they alight to rest) — and butterflies seem to be everywhere. Most have alighted on plants. But one, a golden beauty about two inches across, lands on my ballpoint pen while others land on “butterfly sticks,” small foam paintbrushes that have been dipped in nectar. Kids love the butterfly sticks. So (judging from the smiles and laughter) do adults.
This is fun, to be sure, and Jo Ann delights in the joy that butterflies bring to visitors’ faces. But she envisions even more. One of her goals is to develop what she calls a “science and education center” where people can experience nature up close, learning to appreciate and protect it with butterflies as the catalyst to spark interest in and awareness of the natural world.
The magic of butterflies, she explains, “is one of the first things we learn about nature,” and she wants to capitalize on that to encourage a broader appreciation of nature in folks of all ages.
My daughter, now grown and visiting us for a few days, has come with me to the butterfly farm. Like everyone else I see there, she is mesmerized by the dance of winged color that flutters all around.
“Dad,” she says to me, “you’ve got to bring the grandkids here!”
I will. You can count on that,
The Dahlonega Butterfly Farm is located at 427 Castleberry Bridge Rd., Dawsonville, GA. 30534. It’s open from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Adult admission (ages 13+) is $8, and children 12 and under are $5. Group and school tours, as well as very reasonable season passes, are also available. For more info, call (706) 867-9473 or visit dahlonegabutterfly.com.