GROVER BEACH -- Watching western Monarch butterflies winter in a serene eucalyptus grove in Pismo Beach makes Sheila Boone want to preserve, protect and -- most of all -- share what's left of the Central Coast's special history and environment.
Her dream of a Central Coast butterfly center, with educational and research facilities, is getting closer to reality, she said, with the potential financial interest of some oil companies and agribusiness firms.
Her vision includes a domed butterfly conservatory, nature preserve, silk butterfly pavilion, insectarium, breeding and research laboratory, and an arboretum. Other aspects of the massive project call for museums on space, black gold, Native American culture, Spanish land grant history and a 1930s Dust Bowl migration commemorative center.
The complex would need about 400 acres, "most of which would be preserved as open space" somewhere between Big Sur and Ventura. Boone won't give specifics on the oil company sites she's hoping for, but hints they might be located in southern San Luis Obispo County or Santa Barbara County.
OBJECT OF HER AFFECTION: Sheila Boone holds a photo of a western Monarch butterfly.
She pleads for grants and talks with corporation executives about potential project sites from her small home office in Grover Beach. The room is filled with her own photos of Monarchs and letters of encouragement from England's scientific author and conservationist Miriam Rothschild and other butterfly experts.
Her fax machine is busy; her phone is seldom quiet.
She has lined up a scientific advisory board, attorneys, accountants, a professional fund-raiser and an architect.
It is an international project, Boone said of the effort she figures will cost nearly $1 billion. She is persistent as she dogs big companies and wealthy individuals for donations. Her seed money came from her late husband Fred Fredrickson's insurance and small donations from friends.
The initial idea for the conservatory came from his love of the western Monarch butterflies that winter in Pismo Beach, Boone said. Fredrickson was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1985 and died a year ago, after five-day-a-week dialysis and eventually a transplant. "The caterpillars-turned-butterflies and that two-life concept," said Boone, "gave him hope."
Boone, 56, took back her maiden name, she said, to draw more attention to her butterfly cause as an eighth-generation great-granddaughter of Daniel, "a famous pathfinder and naturalist." The link to him, she said, is on both sides of her family because of second cousins who married.
She too has a great appreciation for nature and conservation, Boone said, growing up along the Alsea River in Oregon. Later while Fredrickson was a supervisor for Weyerhauser, a timber company in Tacoma, she helped rear son Chris, did wildlife photography and ran a business of her own.
The family came to Grover Beach five years ago from San Diego and soon after began the quest for a butterfly palace. Boone researched butterfly houses in Galveston, Niagara Falls and Houston in between doing her husband's dialysis at home herself. Friends helped her file for nonprofit status. Charlotte Ruffoni, who lives on the Nipomo Mesa, also got involved in the project, working on the possibility of an interactive museum for the visually impaired.
Kingston Leong, a Cal Poly entomology professor, joined Rothschild and other experts on Boone's scientific advisory board. Architect Dennis Springer who designed Moody Gardens in Galveston visited the Central Coast for a tour with Boone. Both men believe the potential for her palace is more than pie-in-the-sky.
When first contacted by Boone three years ago, Leong admitted he thought that's what it was. But not any more. "Her heart is in the right place," he said. "I wouldn't put it past her to pull this off. She already has done some remarkable things."
Like Boone he envisions a large butterfly habitat with both conservation and educational features. "It would be a great thing to have. It also would be a clean industry and a great tourist draw."
Money raised from the center, he added, could be used for the conservation and management of butterfly groves.
The so-called eastern and western Monarchs, he said, are divided by the Rocky Mountains. Those that eat milkweed east of the Rockies winter in the high mountains of Mexico, where from 80 million to 100 million butterflies gather. Those that come to the California Coast, however, only number about 5 million.
They start coming in late September, Leong said, and stay through February or March.
Springer of Morris Architects, with offices on both coasts, said the Galveston Moody Gardens educational and tourist complex is on 242 acres of leased land that will continue to develop over several years. It includes a tropical rain forest and butterflies under an acre-sized glass pyramid.
Springer sees no guile in Boone. "She has a passion for her project with no particular personal benefit," he said from a company office in Houston. "Hers is an evangelical cause to save and protect."
But part of her dream is to keep whatever land is acquired pristine. "A challenge in laying out the facility," Springer said, "will be how to bring thousands of tourists and still do that."
He sees something similar to the Crystal Palace of London, built in the 1850s, for a Central Coast butterfly conservatory, which Boone said would be the first phase of probably a decade-long project.
Springer is a principal in a firm whose credits include the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center, the Disney Institute, Emeril's Restaurant, the Orlando Museum of Art and a Terminator exhibition building at Universal Studios, all in Florida; the Hobby Performing Arts Center and Wortham Theatre Center in Texas, the Chicago Music and Dance Theatre plus projects in Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan.
Boone also wants some financial support for the project from Central Coast dwellers. She can be reached at Butterfly Palace, Inc., P.O. Box 171, Pismo Beach, 93448 or by calling (805) 473-0887.
"The public seems to love the idea of butterflies," she said citing similar facilities around the country. These wouldn't be taken from the wild, but grown at butterfly farms in Costa Rica and then bred, raised and researched in the palace.
She tries to emphasize the project's educational and conservation aspects over tourism, which could bring hundreds of jobs. "I think anyone who cares about this beautiful area and wants to see it preserved should get behind this."
Carol Roberts covers the South County for the Telegram-Tribune. Story ideas and news tips can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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