Bat bonanza in West Virginia
Today, you’re hearing from Emily Peters, who hails from the little town of Alfred, New York. She graduated from Delaware Valley College in May 2013, earning a B.S. in zoo science. Within a single year, she has lived in three different states, building her career in a way she didn’t expect- through environmental education and outreach. She now makes her home in the fourth state, as an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps, or AFHA, member serving at the Service’s West Virginia Field Office in Elkins. While she’s in the mountain state, she hopes to make a difference in the community by developing strong education and outreach programs about local environmental issues, particularly on non-native invasive and endangered species.
Happy National Bat Week! The Service’s West Virginia Field Office celebrated their love for bats with AFHA AmeriCorps members at the YMCA in downtown Elkins on Tuesday, October 28 by hosting a “Bat Bonanza!” event.
This event was coordinated and planned by yours truly (Emily Peters, AFHA AmeriCorps member and bat enthusiast) in the span of two weeks. Yep, you read correctly. In just two weeks I found a venue, coordinated volunteers, created educational displays, advertised in every local shop and publication possible, gathered supplies, and organized bat-themed activities and crafts for the day. You might be thinking, this girl is crazy, why would she do that to herself!? Or no way, how did she pull that off? Or maybe does she have superpowers? My answers to these questions are as follows, in order:
- I prefer the term “entertaining” and I did it because bats are cool, adorable, and super important. Everyone needs to know this.
- Let me tell you, it would not have been possible without a huge amount of support from my coworkers and fellow AmeriCorps members. They kept me focused and motivated, and accepted my bat puns and jokes for what they were: absolutely ridiculous, but also quite amusing.
As stressful as the planning was, it was all worth it. Kids came with their families with empty arms and left with colorful bat masks, hats, foam puppets, and paper airplanes. They got reformed bat-itudes and realized that not everything they thought they knew about bats were true. They transformed into bat biologists and bravely entered a dark inflatable bat cave where they wandered amongst stalactites (a rock formation that hangs from a cave ceiling) and stalagmites (a rock formation that rises from the cave floor) to search for bats using their all-powerful headlamps. They tried to do as the bats do: use echolocation skills to navigate their environment through a fun, interactive game.
Even though the kids learned quite a lot from their bat adventures, they certainly took opportunities to teach AmeriCorps members a thing or two as well. For example:
“The reason some bats have white stuff on their noses is because they’re sick with white-nose syndrome and that’s really bad.”
“I’m Batman for Halloween and he’s a really cool superhero.”
“Cosmic brownies are magic!” (This has nothing to do with bats, but this kid was really excited about cosmic brownies and I would’ve felt bad if I left out his important message.)
“When you go inside a cave, you need a flashlight on your head because it helps you to see.”
“Did you know a bat can catch 600 insects in one hour!? Wait no, it’s actually 1,000!”
Maybe it was the Halloween costumes, or the friendly dispositions of AmeriCorps members, or the handfuls of candy they were eating (you’re welcome, parents!) but those kids had some confidence! In exchange for us providing seemingly endless bat entertainment, some kids decided to give us entertainment in return (a lot of it was unintentional, but hey, it still counts). We watched a ninja turtle defeat a witch and got front-row seats to a reenactment of zombie Michael Jackson’s thriller dance. When faced with the question “if you could fill a giant pool full of anything you wanted, what would you fill it with,” it was collectively decided it should be any and everything that is chocolate and bat cookies, duh.
Amongst all of the fun and goofing around, Bat Bonanza achieved my goals when I ambitiously pursued this event. It delivered important messages such as how bats are important to the ecosystem and to humans, why bats are in trouble and what we can do about it, and bats are not scary creatures of the night but rather an amazingly adapted, harmless species. I am very happy that this little event could be a part of such a large and valuable cause.