Rocky Mountain Gardens & Exploration Center
Missoula County Weed District and Extension and Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium break ground on new facility.
Board members, staff and representatives from the Missoula County Weed District and Extension and the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, along with other community partners, grabbed shovels and garden hoes to ceremoniously break ground on the 29,000-square-foot Rocky Mountain Gardens & Exploration Center on Friday, May 14 at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. Expected to open in early 2023, Jackson Construction will begin construction of the center later this month.
The Exploration Center will be the premier center for scientific education and community-centered learning in the Rocky Mountain West and is the first major new building in the fairgrounds' revitalization efforts. The year-round destination will be home to Montana's first tropical butterfly house, 2.5 acres of premier education gardens, a demonstration kitchen, greenhouse, plant lab and classrooms. Providing a one-of-a-kind, immersive scientific and cultural experience for people of all ages, the center will draw residents and visitors to Midtown Missoula.
"The Rocky Mountain Gardens & Exploration Center will be an invaluable resource to our community for generations to come," said Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero. "A place of education, exploration and wonderment, teaching people how to understand, respect and cultivate the rich resources through-out our region."
The Rocky Mountain Gardens & Exploration Center is the long-planned dream of the people behind the Missoula County Weed District and Extension and the Missoula Butterfly House. Jerry Marks, MC Extension Agent, has envisioned a center for hands-on community learning in Missoula since visiting an education garden in Wyoming in the early 1990s. The County Extension agent, who celebrated 50 years with the MSU Extension Office in 2019, has worked with his team at the Weed District and Extension, the Missoula County Commissioners, the Missoula County Fairgrounds, the Healthy Acres Healthy Communities Foundation, the Missoula Butterfly House and Missoula Conservation District to create something bigger and bolder than he first witnessed—a place that connects all people to the land and builds lifelong stewardship for the Western Montana landscape and appreciation for the plants and insects that make it thrive.
"Missoula has a long history of rural traditions and innovation in farming practices and land management backed by a community that knows what we have here is precious," said Marks. "Now, we get the opportunity to expand our educational programming with new generations of people right in urban Missoula."
Likewise, Jen Marangelo, Missoula Butterfly House executive director, has dreamt of a tropical butterfly house in Missoula for more than 15 years. Working from the late 1990s to mid 2000s with Dr. Doug Emlen, renowned evolutionary biologist at the University of Montana, and the elementary students she visited as an expansion of their work, Marangelo saw how incredibly excited children were about insects. Her idea for a butterfly house and insect museum for Missoula hatched. Jen and Glenn Marangelo launched the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium non-profit in 2009, with the long-term goal to build a tropical butterfly house and insectarium.
"Insects make amazing subjects for teaching a wide range of scientific topics. As more people understand insects, the fear is erased and the fascination begins," said Jen Marangelo. "Being able to teach children and adults inside the setting of a tropical butterfly house is life changing to their understanding of the ecosystem. Then they can go outside to the education gardens and see the vital role insects play in their own world." Jerry Marks commented, "The groundbreaking was a perfect celebration of my 80th birthday and my initial dream, now a community dream."