In the shade of the pecan and cypress trees that grow tall along the river at Brackenridge Park, brightly hued monarch butterflies blended with the falling leaves Saturday morning during the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival.
The seventh annual event, hosted by the Texas Butterfly Ranch and the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, offered all ages the opportunity to interact with the endangered monarch butterflies as they pass through San Antonio on their journey to Mexico.
Butterﬂies and other pollinators including bees, moths, birds and bats pollinate over 75% of the world’s ﬂowering plants, according to the National Park Service. The event seeks to raise awareness of their importance to the ecosystem.
The festival got its start in 2016, the year after San Antonio became the first Monarch Champion City, committing to all 24 National Wildlife Federation action items.
Previously held at the Pearl and Confluence Park, this year’s festival marked its first appearance at Brackenridge Park. After reading an official proclamation, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other officials boarded the San Antonio Zoo Train, converted into a chugging caterpillar, giant antennae and all.
As in the past, festivalgoers also got the chance to tag a butterfly with the help of a master naturalist. Tagging helps determine the pathways taken by migrating monarchs and their survival rate.
Children are especially captivated by the experience, said Monika Maeckle, festival organizer and founder of Texas Butterfly Ranch.
“When they do this, it changes everything,” Maeckle said. “And if that butterfly gets recovered [in Mexico], it’s a super incredible engagement tool to get people to look at things differently.”
Cousins Chiara and Daisy Pride spotted a butterfly resting on a display of seeds and watched for several minutes before the insect’s deep orange wings lifted it into the trees. Daisy noticed that the monarch had been tagged on one wing and said it was her second sighting of the day.
The family-friendly festival also included plant giveaways and tutorials, children’s activities and crafts, and butterfly bike rides. New to this year’s festival was a Tree of Life altar, created by San Antonio artist Terry Ybañez.
Inspired by a visit last spring to Valle de Bravo in the state of Mexico, Ybañez used paper-mache and recycled cardboard to recreate the many monarch butterflies she saw there emerging from clusters and blanketing the “tree of life” clay sculptures so common in the area.
At the center of the art installation, sunlight pours through the transparent wings of dozens of artificial butterflies atop a colorful 7-foot altar bearing the Virgen de Guadalupe. The altar honors the victims of the mass shooting in Uvalde in May, with the names of each written along the trunk.
Two smaller altars represent other pollinators — hummingbirds and bees.
Amid the bright orange marigolds, the traditional bowls of salt, water and copal, Ybañez also displayed photos of the deceased, including her grandparents, a longtime friend and her dog Chiquita, who she said had just died the day before.
It took the artist almost three months to create the Tree of Life that was stood under a giant cypress in a serene area of the park.
After the event, the altar will be on display at Mission Library until the end of October. It will then migrate to Mission Marquee Plaza for Celebrando las Misiones, one event among many planned for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead festival, Oct. 28-30.