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SPRINGFIELD, MO. — A solar-powered fountain stolen from the Roston Native Butterfly House has been safely recovered, thanks to two parks visitors who spotted it in a wooded area of Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park
Overnight Aug. 20-21, a thief broke into the butterfly house, located in in the park. The intruder stole pruning shears, and rose bush, several ceramic frogs, a net enclosure full of cocoons and live moths, and the colorful half-foot-tall “Troll’s Cottage Bubbler” fountain, which provides water to thirsty pollinators.
The break-in was a blow to Chris and Debra Barnhart, longtime volunteer curators with the Roston Native Butterfly House, who had created the one-of-a-kind fountain for the butterfly house earlier this year.
“My husband had spent a lot of time modifying it so it would work as a solar fountain,” said Debra Barnhart, speaking of Chris. “It was originally made for an aquarium, but he built a concrete base that is a well that holds the water for the pump. The kids (who visit) really like it because it’s whimsical.”
The thief left a human-sized hole in the butterfly house wall, which is made of nylon netting. Nonprofit group Friends of the Garden, which supports Springfield Botanical Gardens and operates the butterfly house, had just replaced the entire structure’s netting earlier this summer — an investment expected to last 10 years.
The morning after the break-in, Tiffany Reichert and her family took a stroll around Springfield Botanical Gardens.
“We recently moved very close to that park and we’re trying to get to know our way around,” said Reichert. They had planned to make their first visit to the butterfly house, but the family hadn’t brought along face-coverings, so they stuck to trails. Less than a quarter-mile away, daughter Alaynna, age 8, spotted something colorful in a wooded area.
“My little girl saw it and said, ‘Look at that — how cute!’” said Reichert, “She loves little cottages and gnomes, and she has an eagle eye for things like that.” Alaynne didn’t know it, but she had found the missing fountain.
“It was adorable,” said her mom. “We thought it was a little odd sitting there, but we’ve only been there a couple of times.”
Later that afternoon, Erin Harrison and her boyfriend passed by the same spot while playing Pokémon GO, a GPS-based videogame where players hunt for digital creatures “hiding” in actual locations, like parks.
“Nathanael Greene Park and the Square are the two big places for Pokémon stops,” said Harrison, who also lives near the park. “I just happened to look over there and saw it. My initial thought was, you know those painted rocks people hide in the park? I thought it was one of those. We both looked at it and thought it was kind of weird.”
Both Reichert and Harrison had gone home before they realized they had found stolen property. Reichert saw the a photo of the missing fountain on Friends of the Garden’s Facebook page.
“I showed it to my little girl to confirm, and she was like, ‘Mom that’s definitely it!’” said Reichert.
Harrison’s figured it out after reading a Springfield News-Leader article about the theft.
“A friend of mine plays Pokémon with me, and she had seen the News-Leader article on our Pokémon page, and she tagged me,” said Harrison. “I clicked on it and happened to see the (fountain) picture. Then I realized what it was.”
Both women used social media to alert park staff — who passed the tip to the Barnharts. Just after finishing their supper, they rushed to the park and located the fountain. They put it back together inside the butterfly house. It works.
Debra Barnhart also hand-stitched the hole in the wall closed.
“I took some nylon cordage and sutured it last night,” she said.
Lisa Bakerink, development director for Friends of the Garden and longtime butterfly house volunteer, said she is elated to have the fountain back.
“Chris and Deb pour their heart and soul into that place — not only their time, but the knowledge it takes to raise caterpillars and butterflies for the house,” said Bakerink, who is also executive director of Springfield Sister Cities Association, based at Springfield Botanical Gardens.
“Chris had taken the time to put together the fountain and to make it solar powered. This little feature seems minor, but it’s really a major thing for them to share it, and to see the joy it brings to little kids’ faces.”
None of the other items have been recovered.
Debra Barnhart said whoever has the enclosure with the cocoons and live moths should leave it open outside and let them emerge on their own.
Bakerink said publicity of the theft not only lead to the fountain’s recovery, but also spurred donations now exceeding the $500 estimated loss and damage. Funding is particularly tight, after the volunteer-run butterfly house was closed for two months due to COVID-19 prevention.
“We don’t near have the amount of donations we normally have for this time of year, and anything people give will help us catch up and provide for the butterfly house this season.”
Donations may be made through FriendsoftheGarden.org.
Roston Native Butterfly House is open daily through September, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Staffing is provided by volunteers, so call 417-891-1515 ext. 0 to confirm hours. Admission is free and cash donations are accepted. Face coverings are required. For more information, visit ParkBoard.org/Botanical.
All visitors to any park, facility or trail are asked to keep a minimum six-foot distance from others, make sure they wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their faces, cover any coughs or sneezes, and please stay home if they are feeling any symptoms of illness. Bring your own water bottle. Face coverings may be required. For more information on COVID-19 prevention in Parks, visit ParkBoard.org/Coronavirus.
For media inquiries, contact Jenny Fillmer Edwards, Public Information Administrator for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, at 417-224-5510, or Trysta Herzog, Executive Director of Friends of the Garden, at 417-874-2952.
PHOTO: Alaynna Reichert, age 8, sits near the solar fountain she helped find after it was stolen from the Roston Native Butterfly House. Alaynna and their family made their first visit to the butterfly house Aug. 23, after the fountain was recovered. Photo credit: Springfield-Greene County Park Board.