SM AIRPORT — Linda Sullivan still remembers the day when good friend Griff Hoerner came into her office and announced a plan to create a butterfly garden in Santa Monica.
“The city needs a butterfly park and you’re the one who can help me do this,” Hoerner said at the time.
So it was only appropriate to Sullivan to find a way to carry out his dream after the local businessman and aviation enthusiast died in a plane crash off the Malibu coast last fall, prompting friends to collect money for the project and hand out milkweed plants — which attract butterflies — to mourners during the memorial service at the Barker Hangar.
With funding and a general idea in place, the only thing the project was missing was a person to see it through.
In came Michael Moritz, a 17-year-old Santa Monica resident and Boy Scout who was in need of a project to achieve Eagle Scout status.
“It was appropriate because Griff had two sons of his own and was always very nurturing to young men, especially like Michael who have so much potential,” Sullivan said in a recent interview.
A junior at Loyola High School, Moritz has been with the Boy Scouts Troop 2 in Santa Monica since the sixth grade. He began working on the Eagle Scout project in February when a group of Hoerner’s friends proposed the idea of building a butterfly garden.
“I always had this fascination with butterflies and so the idea just clicked with me,” Moritz said, adding that he grew up seeing his uncle’s butterfly collections from all over the world, including South America and Madagascar. The collection has been featured in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
The goal was to attract butterflies in their migration back north from their breeding ground in Central Mexico using the milkweed, a plant that Hoerner grew near his home in the Santa Monica Canyon, in the office of his construction company next to the Santa Monica Airport, and in areas off the runway.
The plant is considered vital to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly because it is the only plant on which the species will lay their eggs, Moritz said.
“The milkweed is getting diminished due to construction projects and people are getting rid of them because they look like weeds and they don’t know any better,” he said. “This is a way to help attract the butterflies and educate the public and create a whole new attraction in Santa Monica.”
After receiving support from the Recreation and Parks Commission in April, a team of about 15 current and graduated scouts spent a day in mid-May clearing out a 30-by-30 foot section of Crescent Bay Park, pulling invasive weeds and preparing the soil to plant some milkweed purchased from a nursery. Moritz has since returned several times a week since to check on the project and water the plants. The park sits just next to the Shutters on the Beach hotel.
From conception to completion, the project took about 150 hours.
Candidates for Eagle Scouts must spend at least 100 hours on the project, though most spend considerably more time, some clocking in at 300 hours. The students are usually around 16 and 17 years old when they begin the process, said Steve Marcy, the scoutmaster of Troop 2.
“Nothing like this (project) has ever been done,” Marcy said.
The project must somehow benefit the community and not the troop. Most involve refurbishing classrooms, churches or a public space. A presentation to the troop board, which consists of parents, is also required. Moritz has already made the presentation and is awaiting word on the approval from the troop’s district.
Less than 5 percent of Boy Scouts go on to become an Eagle Scout.
“Eagle Scout to me is the ultimate completion of scouting,” Moritz said. “I feel it represents my ability to lead, to communicate, to understand, and to basically act with morals.”
Moritz, who wants to attend college on the East Coast to study medicine, said he hopes the butterfly garden, which is considered a demonstration project, will lead to the creation of a larger habitat in the city.
While Moritz never met Hoerner, he learned a lot about the late aviator through the project.
“He loved (butterflies) just for the way they flew,” he said.
Hoerner was the owner of Overview Construction, working on projects such as the ice rink on the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue. He was perhaps known most for his love of the skies, serving in several aviation groups and teaching flying lessons.
His former girlfriend Linda Snouffer, who was also involved with the butterfly project, recalls that during meetings with clients at the Spitfire Grill, Hoerner would often take back small containers of milk and cream from the restaurant, planting seeds and growing plants in his office. The office, which was located above the restaurant, would often be filled with butterflies.
“This (project) is a wonderful tribute to him because flight was so fascinating to him,” Snouffer said. “Butterflies to him were a connection to flight.”