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Great Neck Plaza to create stop on ‘butterfly superhighway’

Officials in Great Neck Plaza plan to plant

Officials in Great Neck Plaza plan to plant new vegetation that will attract butterflies in the future. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Great Neck Plaza officials want to turn a village parking lot into a sanctuary for a colorful winged insect and, in the process, create one of many stops on “a butterfly superhighway” across Nassau County.

Mayor Jean Celender said at a village board meeting earlier this month the public works department will plant specific types of vegetation that attract butterflies at a parking lot on the corner of Maple Drive and Bond Street. The planting will start in the spring and continue until the field is covered with butterflies, Celender said.

The parking lot was converted into an eco-friendly space in August 2016 with money from an Environmental Protection Agency grant. The lot has a few native plants on it now, Celender said, and also has a special pavement that drains rain water on site through a system of layered gravel. The parking lot is village property and a few steps away from the Gold Coast Arts Center.

Celender said the performing arts center would greatly benefit from a butterfly sanctuary, particularly with the organization’s educational outreach.

“I can see the children there trying to capture native butterflies or take pictures of them,” she said. “And it will help the children understand them [the butterflies] better.”

The village hasn’t settled on which specific plants are to be used, but some under consideration include Joe Pye weed, viburnum, ironweed, Virginia sweetspire and dwarf cherry trees.

Celender said adding the butterfly-attracting plants to the lot won’t cost the village any extra money because there are funds already budgeted for adding more plants to the parking lot.

The idea for the butterfly hangout came from Village of Great Neck resident Robert Sedaghatpour and Jeff Petracca, the entomology curator at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.

Sedaghatpour, who owns a Manhattan-based real estate consulting firm, said he and his family are regulars at the aquarium’s butterfly exhibit. During one of their trips there, Sedaghatpour said he began to wonder why there were few butterflies in Great Neck.

“And after watching some Netflix documentaries, I realized that it was a function of our own doing,” he said. “And then I realized that we can bring them all back.”

In the fall, thousands of butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexico, often stopping in New York to rest or eat, Petracca said. Sedaghatpour said adding more plants will increase the likelihood that more butterflies will visit Great Neck.

Petracca said he is partnering with Sedaghatpour to visit municipalities across Nassau County and persuade officials to initiate efforts to attract more butterflies. Petracca said the two are focusing on parking lots and tree stumps because residents typically don’t care what grows there.

Sedaghatpour said he has also garnered promises to be butterly-friendly from the Great Neck Park District, Nassau County and the Town of North Hempstead.

Monarch butterflies are a candidate for listing on the federal endangered species list, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has reported populations of the butterfly have dropped by almost one third in the past 20 years. The agency reported last year that the population of eastern monarchs could drop to the point of extinction.

Butterfly fans

Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender’s promise to attract more butterflies to the village helps fulfill the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge. Other New York communities that have already taken the pledge include:

Brooklyn

Manhattan

Harrison

Olive

Pound Ridge

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