‘Butterfly Lady’ retires from restoring Gibbs Park

Norma Brandel Gibbs Butterfly Park honors former Seal Beach mayor

Photo by Chris MacDonald Leslie Gilson “Butterfly Queen” passes her rake to Bonnie Coerper.

Leslie Gilson had just moved back to Huntington Beach from England and was looking for something to do. She saw hundreds of decaying Eucalyptus trees near Meadowlark Golf Course and decided to do something about it. In 2007, Gilson contacted the city of Huntington Beach and ended up writing for a state grant to try and replace those trees, in what is now called Norma Brandel Gibbs Butterfly Park at 16641 Graham St.

With the grant and help from the Huntington Beach Tree Society and the city, the dying trees were replaced, milkweed and other flowers were planted as Gibbs Park, named after Seal Beach and Huntington Beach Mayor Gibbs, became a park for migrating butterflies. Gibbs, who was Seal Beach Mayor in 1960 and Huntington Beach Mayor in 1975 and 1976, was thrilled with the park’s renovation and nationwide publicity about its significance in the lives of Monarch Butterflies, who are attracted to and nourish on milkweed.

Today, the park is enjoyed by butterflies, walkers, bicyclists, kids, dogs, birds and even a resident owl.

Gilson, who for nearly 15 years volunteered as restoration coordinator, recently “passed her shovel” and title to another gardening lover, Bonnie Coerper sister-in-law of former HB Mayor and Police Officer Gil Coerper. Bonnie’s husband, Wally, passed away last year and, like Leslie, she was looking for something to do. When the opportunity came up to maintain and enhance Gibbs Park’s beauty, she was thrilled to take charge. “Doing this has really saved my life and given me a new purpose,” said the former park neighbor. “My goal is to bring new life that will attract migrating Monarch Butterflies back to the park.” “Planting and gardening bring me so much joy. This land is where kids play, people bring their dogs, watch birds, eat at picnic tables, come to visit others and escape the rigors of urban life. It’s a wonderful, quiet place to stroll and meditate among the shade trees,” she said.

She plans on helping bring the colorful butterflies back by planting more Milkweed, Basil, red flowers and other things which attract them on their migratory trips. Some of the plants come from the park’s tables at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, off Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.

“We raise funds to purchase plants and maintain the park,” said the Huntington Beach Tree Society volunteer. “We work with the city and use volunteers, such as Boy Scouts doing their Eagle Projects, to plant the trees.”

You can become involved or make a donation at: http://www.hbtrees.org.

“I had the good fortune to meet Leslie Gilson about the same time I got my dogs,” said Barbara Delgleize, Huntington Beach mayor pro tem.

“I loved walking them in the park and slowly started meeting a lot of others, who had dogs too. Leslie was on a mission … she wanted to upgrade Gibbs Park,” Delgleize said.

“Small but mighty Leslie put a group of volunteers together and they made heaven out of the park and turned it into a  butterfly park,” Delgleize said.

“Leslie began having parades for young children usually once a year.  It was wonderful because she got to share a lot of what she had learned about butterfly’s and how to nurture them. We have been so blessed in HB to have so many committed volunteers. Leslie certainly put in the hours every day and then some. Norma Gibbs Park is one of the best kept secrets in all of HB and it truly is because of the commitment and dedication of Leslie Gilson.  Many thanks,” Delgleize said.

Jean Nagy, of the Huntington Beach Tree Society, said: “Everyone who has ever been thrilled when visiting Gibbs Park owes a debt of gratitude (including myself) to Leslie Gilson for her many years of dedication to enchanting us with her visiting butterflies and spectacular beds of flowers.  Thank you Leslie.”   

Diana Abruscato, a local pickleball founder, said: “Gilson has volunteered countless hours over the past several years, orchestrating the beautification of Gibbs ‘Butterfly’ Park. She has been an inspiration to many, as onlookers enjoy the power of a community member taking the lead on a projects. She included many local individuals, businesses and organizations to join in the journey of creating a beautiful space for an entire community to enjoy. Many thanks to Leslie for being an outstanding liaison, through leadership and ingenuity for her community … for all to enjoy for many more years to come.”