The outdoor landscape at the Butterfly Pavilion welcomes people, plants and wildlife. Our habitat gardens are specifically designed to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects at all stages of their lives. Shrubs, trees and groundcovers provide shelter for chrysalids and roosting adults. Other plants, such as dill and showy milkweed, provide food for hungry caterpillars. And, of course, our colorful flowers provide nectar to native butterflies from May to October.
Our gardens also emphasize sun-loving and drought-tolerant perennials that thrive in Colorado’s climate.
Big Dry Creek Open Space
Grasslands first appeared millions of years ago after mountains formed and caused climates to change. In North America, the Rocky Mountains blocked moist air traveling across the continent from the Pacific Ocean, making the middle part of the continent drier. This allowed grasses, which could adapt to a drier climate, to dominate the landscape.
The shortgrass prairies, which begin east of the Rocky Mountains, range in elevation from 6,000 to 1,500 feet. Grasses grow 12 to 18 inches high. Temperate grasslands have warm to hot summers and cool to very cold winters. Wind plays an important role in these very open environments.
Throughout the Western United States, the shortgrass prairie ecosystem has been estimated to have declined to about one fifth of its original area, mainly due to commercial agriculture and other types of human development. Much of the loss has occurred in a couple of generations—a cataclysmic change to an ecosystem within a short span of time.
Big Dry Creek Exploration Trail, which is open to the community at all times, provides unique educational experiences of two significant Colorado habitats: shortgrass prairie and the riparian zone. This area is home to numerous invertebrate and vertebrate species that are characteristic to the shortgrass prairie and riparian ecosystems, such as silver-spotted skippers (Epargyrus clarus) and Swainson’s hawks (Buteo swainsoni). Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, visitors to the site can see a variety of native wildflowers in bloom, or enjoy the shade of cottonwoods along the creek. The invertebrate fauna includes many species of native butterflies, bees, beetles, aquatic insects, and spiders.
Classes and workshops use the nature trails for studies in entomology, ecology, and natural history. The Big Dry Creek Exploration Trail has become an integral part of our educational mission, which seeks to educate visitors about the importance of preserving habitats worldwide.
Butterfly Pavilion’s Restoration Efforts
Since 2004, Butterfly Pavilion staff and volunteers have repaired trails, fenced trees against beavers, removed invasive weeds, and planted native plants along the 4.8 acre Big Dry Creek Exploration Trail. Butterfly Pavilion’s Science and Conservation team has also enlisted the help of visitors and volunteers to assess the biodiversity of Big Dry Creek. Our restoration efforts improve significant habitat for native butterflies and other wildlife along Big Dry Creek while educating the community about these unique Colorado ecosystems. A restored shortgrass prairie habitat enhances the natural environment in this location and provides a vital corridor for prairie wildlife in the area.
How You Can Help Local Habitats
- Volunteer for a habitat restoration event
- Consider including native plants in your own landscape
- Participate in citizen science projects, such as MonarchWatch or Lost Ladybug Project
- Support Butterfly Pavilion’s restoration efforts—donate here
Create Your Own Butterfly Garden
It’s easy to create or convert your landscape into a butterfly garden. In just a few simple steps you can plant and maintain a habitat that attracts butterflies and provides them with what they need to survive during their entire life cycle.