A sizable crowd showed up on a sunny Friday afternoon to witness the groundbreaking of the $16 million dollar Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center that will contain the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium.

John Rummel, co-chair of the project, provided opening comments.

“This day is a great celebration that represents years of hard work, planning and a vision that was nurtured and shared both by the Missoula county wheat district and extension, and the Missoula butterfly house and Insectarium and their many constituents, many of whom are here today,” said Rummel. “Some of you may look out here and see a pile of dirt and an asphalt parking lot. There are a bunch of us here today who don't see that anymore. We walk out and imagine instead a new building with gardens decided in an opportunity for learning and exploration of science and the natural world.”

One of the forces behind the project was Glenn Marangelo, who described his wife Jenn’s Master’s project that led to the first Insectarium.

“It was 3:00 a.m. almost to the day 13 years ago, and we were pulling an all-nighter, finishing the installation of Jen Marangelo's beetles, the greatest animals on earth exhibit at the University of Montana,” he said. “This exhibit was part of her master's thesis for her degree in museum exhibit design and curriculum development, which was a degree that she decided to go back to get when the idea of doing a tropical butterfly house and an insect museum just popped into her head. This has been a long way coming.”

Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero spoke to the crowd and how they can help the project.

“The butterfly house, the exploration center, the insectarium will not be able to be realized without public private partnerships,” said Vero. “So, Missoula County is so proud to support this effort. Where are my fellow Commissioners? Oh, there's Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick is right there. We’re just so proud for this day.”

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Vero then began praising the man of the hour, Missoula County Extension Agent Jerry Marks.

“He's been instrumental in obtaining federal funding for his extension forestry office,” she said. “He created the plant clinic, the horticulture education position, and he also developed the weed district and the statewide Montana biological program. So we credit his vision for this amazing facility and for bringing all the partners together and rally and community support to get us to where we are here today. So let's give it up for the birthday boy. (applause)

Coincidentally, the groundbreaking ceremony was held on Jerry Mark’s 81st birthday.

The building will be on the Missoula County Fairgrounds, and is expected to open early in 2023.


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