The Butterfly Highway Story

The Butterfly Highway Story

Original Butterfly Highway logo design.

The Butterfly Highway was founded in 2014 by Dr. Angel Hjarding as part of her dissertation research at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During the summer of 2013, she worked as a research assistant to Dr. Janni Sorensen and the Charlotte Action Research Project (CHARP). In her role with CHARP, she spent time with residents of West Charlotte neighborhoods discussing issues of safety, social inequality, community building, and beautification. Neighborhood leaders would often talk about the need for beautification projects such as gardens but these needs were rarely met due to a lack of resources.

That summer, there was a lot of media attention around the rapid decline of monarch butterfly populations in the US. Widespread loss of milkweed, monarch’s larval host plant, play a critical role in the decline as well as an overall loss of biodiversity, especially in urban areas.

What does the decline of monarchs have to do with neighborhood beautification? Almost every one of the neighborhoods she was partnered with was a pollinator food desert. They had trees, grass, and non native shrubs but what they lacked were flowering plants especially those that provided food and habitat for monarch butterflies. Out of the community need for beautification and the monarchs need for urban food sources, the Butterfly Highway was born.

Dr. Hjarding with Druid Hills Neighborhood Association President, Darryl Gaston May 2015.

In 2014, the Butterfly Highway received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to partner with the community to install more than 50 Butterfly Highway pollinator pitstops in Charlotte during the spring of 2015. The project was co-designed with community partners and participants were recruited by neighborhood leaders that had identified beautification as a priority. Each Butterfly Highway participant received a small raised bed garden of native plants for pollinators. The founding Butterfly Highway neighborhoods include:

  • Northwood Estates
  • Druid Hills
  • Graham Heights
  • Enderly Park
  • University Park
  • Oaklawn Park

The first Butterfly Highway pollinator pitstop was installed at Bette Rae Thomas Recreation Center in April 2015. Volunteers from Bank of America, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, UNC Charlotte, and the community came together to build and plant a garden at the recreation center with the same plants that were used in the residential gardens.

City of Charlotte volunteers install a Butterfly Highway
pollinator pitstop at the Charlotte Government Center.

In 2015, the NC Wildlife Federation invited the Butterfly Highway to partner with them on creating pollinator and wildlife habitats in North Carolina. Over the next four years we worked together to add over 2,000 new pollinator pitstops protecting over 30,000 acres of habitat. In April 2019, it was finally time to end our partnership with the NC Wildlife Federation and begin the next chapter our of story.

Males Place and Community Alliance for Wildlife at the
Friendship Orchard and garden. Charlotte, NC, USA. November 2018

2019 marks the year that Butterfly Highway spread its wings and became a registered 501c3 nonprofit in the US. After five years, two partner organizations, thousands of acres pledged, and countless volunteers and supporters it was time that the Butterfly Highway had a permanent home to call its own. This new home gives us room to grow as well as to go back to the roots of the community where the Butterfly Highway began. We can finally become a global network and create opportunities for people to connect with their communities and nature through providing a safe place for all creatures big and small.


We have come a long way in five years, and our next chapter is just beginning. We can’t wait to see where this adventure will take us next. 
To be a part of our story, take the Butterfly Highway Pledge at www.butterflyhighway.org