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The Butterfly Effect

If the lyrics to Dolly Parton’s song “Love is Like a Butterfly” are true, there is a lot to love about an outdoor sculpture project along 30A in South Walton.

The Watersound Monarch Art Trail was created by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County along with The St. Joe Community Foundation to celebrate northwest Florida’s location along the migratory path of the majestic Monarch butterfly. The mile-long trail officially opened in late 2021.

“Public art adds enormous value to the cultural, aesthetic and economic vitality of a community, and the CAA is proud to present a project that will benefit our entire population and inspire the creation of more public art in Walton County,” CAA Executive Director Jennifer Steele said.

Located between 30A and U.S. 98, the trail is situated along a paved path that connects the Watersound Origins community to beaches. In the fall, the migrating Monarchs can be seen resting as they make their 3,000-mile journey back to Mexico for the winter.

The Monarch Art Trail features eight original works of art as well as seating, lighting and native plants. The CAA said the trail, which is part of its Art in Public Places program, is meant to show how important it is to help protect these beautiful pollinators.

Image courtesy Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County

The eight artists who created works for the project – Jeffie Brewer, Jonathan Burger, Grace Cathey, Peter Hazel, Rachel Herring, Anthony Heinz May, Mark Metz and Andrew Hamilton Reiss – were chosen, in part, because of their love of nature and commitment to environmentalism. Each piece was created in less than five months and is meant to withstand the elements as they are located about a mile from the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the artists whose work is part of the trail is Herring, a Santa Rosa Beach resident. 

Her installment “The Golden Flight” is inspired by her love of her northwest Florida home and is based on the golden ratio, a mathematical ratio commonly found in nature. Herring made her 6.5-feet stainless steel piece in her father’s welding shop in Dothan. It includes a golden spiral and allows viewers to see different colors, shapes and forms in the sculpture.

Rachel Herring, courtesy of Erik Olsen

Herring calls the Golden Ratio “one of the coolest things” found in nature.

“It can be found in a number of things, like the growth of a nautilus shell, the position of sunflower seeds within the bloom, the shape of hurricanes, etc.,” she said. “In my sculpture, I created 10 stainless steel pieces depicting the Golden Ratio, then attached them back to back to create an abstract piece that’s up to interpretation by the viewer. Maybe you see butterfly wings, shells, or waves. It can be anything your mind can envision. I love that the stainless steel reflects a bit of the environment that it’s placed in.”

She said when the CAA put out a call to artists for the project, she was excited to apply because she already had two sculptures in the Underwater Museum of Art and hoped to have a sculpture on land above water.

Herring grew up in Dothan, graduated from Auburn and lived in Birmingham for several years before moving to Santa Rosa Beach about seven years ago.

“I was honored to have been one of the eight artists selected to have my piece placed on the trail,” Herring said. “I feel like I’ve been some form of artist my whole life – always coloring, creating and designing.

“I ended up starting Herring Design Company in 2010, and my creations have fluctuated over the years. Initially starting with artwork, I mainly focus on graphic design these days, working with several businesses in the area.”

Herring said she’s always loved working with her hands and learning to work with new tools and mediums. Because of that, she also was able to make her CAA projects a family affair.

“When the CAA came up with the Underwater Museum of Art, I was so excited,” she said. “My dad owns a metal fabricating shop in my hometown and has given me welding lessons over the years. Welding was another addition to my list I was proud to learn. 

“After I applied and got into the UMA, my dad and I set out to build the first sculpture. It was so rewarding and fun – and maybe just a bit challenging – to work with him on that. I’ve been lucky that he is still willing to work with and guide me on my sculpture ideas.”

Herring said she is thankful for the CAA and the work it does.

“As a local to the area, it is so gratifying to see my work when I’m out and about,” she said. “I love what the Cultural Arts Alliance is doing in the area – bringing arts to the people in public spaces for everyone to enjoy.

“I am lucky to live in a place where the arts are important and the natural surroundings are so beautiful.”

And, Herring hopes to continue the family art tradition.

“I moved to Santa Rosa Beach for love, and married my husband Richard in 2020,” she said. “We had a baby boy, Ray, in 2022, who is making it increasingly difficult to apply for new sculpture calls.

“He’s the best, and my dad can’t wait for him to be able to help with the sculptures along with us!” 

Last year, the CAA made improvements to the Monarch Art Trail to clear existing plant beds and install native plants popular with pollinators as well as set up locally made custom benches and solar-powered lighting. All of that was done to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the CAA’s Flutterby Festival, which celebrates the annual Monarch migration.

This year’s festival took place in mid-November at The Pavilion at Watersound Town Center. Activities included kid’s art opportunities, live performances, lawn games, a student art exhibit, a curated professional art market, a butterfly parade, a science station, a book nook and more. 

For more information on the Monarch Art Trail, the CAA, and the Flutterby Festival, visit or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by Chris Dickerson for Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty

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