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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Riverfront Park’s butterfly loses its wings

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 13, 2021

An icon of Riverfront Park’s history and, more recently, its rebirth, was brought down by Wednesday’s forceful winds.

The wings of the Expo Butterfly, a 50-foot-tall metal-and-fabric marker of Riverfront Park’s north entrance, were caught by a gale and brought down at about 7 a.m.

As of Wednesday afternoon, its prognosis was unclear.

The sheared-off wings were tossed to the ground dozens of feet from the structure’s base.

Nobody was hurt in the fall. The butterfly landed within a cordoned-off section of the park’s north bank that remains under construction. Workers at the site heard the crash and quickly reported it, according to Parks Department spokesperson Fianna Dickson.

Officials were at the site Wednesday morning to assess the damage, but it’s too early to estimate the costs or project a timeline for repairs, according to Parks Department spokesperson Fianna Dickson.

“We’re in an information-gathering stage right now,” Dickson said.

The butterfly dates back to Expo ’74 and was restored as part of Spokane Parks’ massive, multiyear renovation of Riverfront Park that is now nearing its completion – and drawing international attention.

At the 1974 world’s fair, the five iconic, towering butterflies served as meeting points and way finders for the throngs of visitors who descended on Spokane.

The butterfly torn down on Wednesday is the last original one still standing in Riverfront Park.

Coffman Engineers, which oversaw the butterfly’s restoration, quickly responded to the scene on Wednesday morning and was working to assess the situation, Dickson said.

Jennifer Leinberger is founder of Save the Butterflies, a group that advocated to ensure the butterfly would be in the Riverfront Park renovation plans in 2016. The project wrapped up in 2019 after a $93,000 investment.

“There’s not a whole lot of iconic structures left from Expo, and the ones that we do have we should preserve,” Leinberger said.

Leinberger had yet to survey the damage in person on Wednesday, that photographs appeared to show the butterfly’s center post still intact.

She also noted there were immediate public calls online for its restoration.

“It’s so important to be able to put this back up if it’s feasible, because it’s part of the history of Spokane and that park,” Leinberger said. “There is no other city that I can think of that has a 50-foot-tall butterfly flying in the middle of their city.”

Prior to the butterfly’s restoration, it had fallen into disrepair and no longer had wings, Leinberger said. Many Spokane newcomers, unaware of the history, didn’t realize it was meant to be a butterfly.

The Spokane Parks Foundation has been raising funds in an effort to restore and reinstall a second Expo Butterfly that is currently in storage.

Though perhaps the most well-known symbol cut down in Wednesday’s windstorm, the butterfly was not the extent of the damage suffered in Spokane Parks, including many massive conifers uprooted in Comstock Park.

The city estimated Wednesday afternoon that 130 trees had fallen in its parks.

Parks officials asked residents Wednesday morning to steer clear of parks until the winds subsided.

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