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Local News

Butterfly House Board Ousted By Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful

Panhandle Butterfly House.jpg
Panhandle Butterfly House & Nature Center

Butterfly House committee members were fired last month by Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful. New leadership will be in place, says KSRB Executive Director Kevin Smith.

Late last week the Panhandle Butterfly House & Nature Center Inc. announced on its Facebook page that the butterfly house committee was fired and locked out of the property on Henry Street.

Smith confirmed the news Tuesday afternoon. He said the four unpaid volunteers who work for the butterfly house wanted to start their own 501c3 (nonprofit). Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful also severed ties with the University of Florida/IFAS, which was a partner organization.

“There were four volunteers working with the butterfly house who wanted to start their own 501c3, but my board didn’t think it was a good idea,” Smith said.

Smith said the reason behind the decision was that the individuals “got off the mission a little bit” of the butterfly house. He has already begun the work to reassign the volunteer roles.

“We had some bumps in the road, but we want to get back and focus on the mission,” he said.

Jenny Weber was the president of the Panhandle Butterfly House & Nature Center since 2019 and a volunteer since 2014. In an email, she said she wished Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful success.

“Our team was on a mission to rebuild the Panhandle Butterfly House,” the statement read. “We spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over the last couple of years getting it to where it is today. We had tremendous support from the community and we just wanted people to know that we did not quit. The reasons are still not clear, nothing has been put in writing. The reasons for dissolving the relationship between KSRB and the UF/IFAS have also not been revealed.”

The Butterfly House Facebook page is still under the control of the former board members. In a post, they said they are waiting on 501c3 status and will continue to use the page to “educate people about Florida's native butterflies and their habitats.”

Weber told the Pensacola News Journal that she and the other former board members have been kept out of the butterfly house’s computers and bank accounts which have around $40,000 in them.

Jack and Fonda Weatherfell started the Butterfly House in a pop-up tent in the backyard of their Navarre home in 1997. They worked with the county to move it to the Navarre Park on Santa Rosa Sound where it sat for 21 years. In 2018, it closed when the county announced a multi-million-dollar renovation of the park, and the center was unable to afford to rebuild.

“We had tears in our eyes when the (old) vivarium was torn down,” said Smith. “We knew the work that had been put into it. It was very heartbreaking.”

Last year, the butterfly house announced plans to move into the historic T.W. Jones house in Milton. The center received a $106,000 IMPACT 100 grant to build a vivarium at the new location. The nonprofit still owes $75,000 for the property.

Smith said they are still waiting on permits before the vivarium can be built at the new location. They were originally planning to open this year, but now the plan is to open by spring.