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Butterfly savanna coming to Keystone Ancient Forest through $10,000 donation from Webco Industries

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SAND SPRINGS — Paying it forward is always a good thing, but once in a while, it’s important to pay it back.

That’s just what happened Thursday morning when Webco Industries made a $10,000 donation to the Keystone Ancient Forest to kick-start the creation of a butterfly savanna at the 1,400-acre nature preserve west of Sand Springs.

The story actually begins 53 years ago, Webco CEO and board Chairwoman Dana Weber said, when her parents, Webco founders F. William “Bill” and Martha “Marty” Weber, were just starting their business in Sand Springs.

Four investors gave $10,000 each in seed money for the Webers to build their company.

And build they did.

Today, Webco is North America’s leading manufacturer of precision-welded carbon and stainless steel tubing products. Two months ago, the company broke ground on the 72,000-square-foot F. William Weber Leadership Campus adjacent to its corporate headquarters on Oklahoma 51 west of Oklahoma 97.

It was while brainstorming for ways to honor the four original investors that “we thought, ‘You know, we’ve got this fabulous resource out in Sand Springs called the Keystone Ancient Forest,’” Weber said Thursday.

It just so happens that Irv Frank, one of Webco’s four original investors, was a driving force behind the establishment of the Keystone Ancient Forest, which is land he once owned.

“And so today we are giving the Keystone Ancient Forest a check for $10,000 in honor of that story of what got Webco started all those many years ago,” Weber said.

Jeff Edwards, the Parks and Recreation Department director for the city of Sand Springs, which now owns and operates the Keystone Ancient Forest on the land that once belonged to Irv Frank, calls that interconnectedness a case of the stars aligning.

When Frank was made aware of what a valuable resource the land was, with its 500-year-old cedar trees and 300- to 450-year-old post oak trees, he made a “commitment back then to say, ‘I want to set this aside in perpetuity for people to enjoy and for the history to continue to evolve,’” Edwards said Thursday.

“I think that’s just a great coincidence.”

Sand Springs Mayor James Spoon called the Keystone Ancient Forest “a tremendous asset to our city.”

“The city is proud of this facility, and we’re proud to accept this donation to partner with Webco, who is truly a wonderful partner for our city,” he said.

A plan for a butterfly savanna had been part of the Keystone Ancient Forest’s master plan for some time, and as recently as just a couple of months ago, it became a front-burner project.

But something was making Edwards resist any sort of official announcement, even after T-shirts had been printed to begin fundraising for the project.

Then just a couple of weeks ago, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared the much-beloved migratory monarch butterfly endangered.

That announcement “signaled to me that this was meant to be,” he said. “This project was meant to be, … (and) now is the right time.”

Edwards said Thursday that Parks Department staff will be working over the next several months to create what they hope will be one of the largest butterfly savannas in the state.

It will comprise seven to 10 acres at the confluence of three existing trails that meander through the Keystone Ancient Forest and will be joined by a new trail that will surround and focus specifically on the savanna.

“From this day forward, we will start some mechanical removal of undergrowth (and do some) prescribed burns,” followed by the planting of a proprietary seed mix for monarch butterflies and other species of butterflies and insects, he said.

And for the skeptical, yes, a savanna really does belong in the middle of an old-growth forest.

“Where we’re standing today, this area isn’t just cleared here today by coincidence,” Edwards said. “This is what this part of the property actually looked like once upon a time.”

He said topographical maps of the area from the 1930s to the 1950s show the area of the forest as an open-prairie grassland, similar to the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

So the savanna “will be a representation of the prairie lands mixing with the cross timbers,” he said.

Edwards said the bulk of the work will be done late this summer and into the fall.

“It’s going to be rough for a while, but — project in the making — we hope to have some form of growth with wildflower plots by May to June of next year,” he said.

For Weber, it makes perfect sense that a heavily industrial manufacturing company is providing the seed money to the city and Parks Department to fund a butterfly savanna at its ancient forest.

“It all fits together. It’s like a huge ecosystem,” she said. “You need the industrial aspects; you need the natural aspects; you need the parks and recreation; you need the industry to provide jobs. It all fits together.

“When you can marry those two (nature and industry) together and have a symbiotic relationship — which I think we’ve always had with the city of Sand Springs, anyway — it just fits.

“It’s a natural fit.”

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