N.J. bats can thank Girl Scout for new hangouts

Photo of Jessica Lukaszek
Photo of Jessica with a bat box

Girl Scout Jessica Lukaszek with one of her bat boxes. Each bat box can house up to 500 bats! Want to help? Make your own (PDF instructions)! Find more information here.

Jessica Lukaszek of Millington, N.J., has been hooked on bats and caves since her first spelunking class at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. When she heard that bats in her own backyard had been hit by the devastating white-nose syndrome disease, she set out to find a way to help.

White-nose syndrome
was confirmed in Morris and Warren counties several years ago. Tens of thousands of New Jersey bats have since died. While much investigation of this bat disease continues, there are ways people can help bats now.

Jessica chose to focus on WNS for her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in girl scouting and the equivalent to the Boy Scout Eagle Award.

Q. What sorts of activities and efforts went into your project? A. For my project, I organized volunteers to help build bat nursery boxes. Each bat box can house up to 500 bats. Once completed, those bat boxes were given to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and to Jockey Hollow at Morristown National Historical Park. In addition to building the boxes, I created a presentation for the public on the bats and white-nose syndrome. I created a PowerPoint presentation, posters, brochures and even demonstration bat boxes to bring attention to this disease that is killing off our bats.

Girl Scout Jessica Lukaszek stands behind her donated bat box with visitor services specialist Dave Sagan at Great Swamp National National Wildlife Refuge.

Girl Scout Jessica Lukaszek stands behind her donated bat box with visitor services specialist Dave Sagan at Great Swamp National National Wildlife Refuge. Little and big brown bats, as well as the endangered Indiana bat, are summer residents at the refuge, migrating from caves and abandoned mines where they hibernate in winter. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lukaszek.

I held informative seminars at both parks, which were in total attended by over 400 people! My website explains WNS and how you can build your own bat box.

Q. What was most memorable or striking through your work? A. Many things were memorable about my Gold Award project.

However, one specific incident made me realize that I was making a difference in educating the public and helping the bats. I gave two presentations per day over a weekend for a few weekends at the parks.

At one of my presentations, I had someone come up to me telling me that they had heard my talk the previous weekend and he went out that week and bought himself a bat box and put it up in his yard! I hoped that my presentations would motivate people to act to help the bats–this was proof that I was successful!

Q. What did you hope to result from your efforts? A. I hope that more people would be informed of the plight of the bats on the East Coast and encourage people to build bat boxes. Bats are an important part of our ecosystem and without them, the balance would be thrown off. Bats can eat thousands of bugs a night, especially mosquitoes. Less mosquitoes and more bats would make everyone happier!

Jessica with other volunteers at the Fall Festival at Great Swamp refuge.

Jessica, seen here with other volunteers, presented her WNS material at the Fall Festival at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. She also donated two bat boxes and a demonstration bat box and showed the public how research on bats in the Swamp was performed. “Due to WNS, there is concern for the viability of the bat population in the Swamp,” she says. “A professional group was hired to count the number and variety of bats in the Swamp that summer, and I helped inform the public of that research.” Photo courtesy of Jessica Lukaszek.

Q. What’s next for you? A. I just graduated from Watchung Hills Regional High School and will be attending West Chester University of Pennsylvania and studying Physics and Engineering. I am a puppy raiser for the Seeing Eye, a member of Paws for a Cause, and I am raising our third Seeing Eye puppy, Cherish, an 8-month-old German shepherd. Our other two puppies, Lima, a black Labrador retriever and Pumpkin, a German shepherd, have both graduated from the Seeing Eye program and are guiding in Texas and California, respectively. I love to travel and after this summer, I will have visited all 50 states.

I love the outdoors and will continue to be a supporter of our natural environment!

Do you know someone in the Northeast who worked on a conservation project for his/her Girl Scout Golden Award or Boy Scout Eagle Award? Let us know below!

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