Firefly Fling draws hundreds to the Botanical Garden

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 163 views 

Hundreds of families celebrated nature Saturday (July 13) at the Firefly Fling, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks annual summer festival.

Grown-ups and kids alike enjoyed food, healthy smoothies, hands-on-nature activity stations and plenty of live music. People brought chairs and blankets and made themselves comfortable for hours of entertainment, both before and after dark. The Firefly Shoppe sold firefly goodies for kids, such as fairy wings and glowing haloes and jewelry that twinkled colorfully, especially when night fell.

One of the event’s highlights was the performance by the Fayetteville bluegrass and folk duo Still on the Hill, whose songs about fireflies, butterflies, gardens and nature wowed the crowd.

“They developed this show just for this event; they’re great,” said Marie Vukin, director of the Firefly Fling.

“Nature circles” was one of the more popular activity stations. Kids learned how to make designs out of things found in nature like pine cones, sticks and leaves.

“The purpose of making nature circles is to get kids familiar with stuff they don’t see in the city,” said volunteer and artist Sunny Sartwell. “It’s amazing how they all take to it like they’ve been doing it for years; it just comes naturally.”

The event began six years ago as a gathering of artists and musicians and was more geared toward adults, said Vukin.

“This is the fourth year of the more family-focused event. As people come back year after year it‘s becoming a family tradition,” she explained.

Vukin runs Project Play Every Day, which aims to get families playing in nature together.

“You can see how families build fairy houses and gnome homes together. The goal of the event is to get kids to have experiences: they’re touching things, smelling things, shaking things and making great discoveries,” she said. “I call it Vitamin N: kids need nature. They need risk-taking. Nature is the best classroom ever.”

The event has grown larger every year, Vukin said. Proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships goes to support the Botanical Gardens, but fundraising is not the primary focus, said Judy Smith, communication and education coordinator.

“We consider this a community event and a cure for nature deficit disorder,” Smith said. “Kids spend so much time indoors with computers and TV, even in the summertime, and this is the opposite of that.”

The grand finale of the event was the spectacular lantern launch, which sent glowing lanterns floating away into the night sky.

Sponsors of the activity stations included the Ozark Natural Science Center, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Audubon Society and Cox Communications. The Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation was a major sponsor of the event.

“We want people to fall in love with nature because that means they’ll take care of it,” Vukin said.