Tag Archives: Elkins

Return of the “Caped” Crusader

Yesterday we heard from Emily Peters, an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Peters shared her “Bat Week” event success story. Today she’s back to tell us how she helped families go “batty” for a good cause, through fun activities and a little bit of bat-box-building know how. 

(Cue Bat signal and real-life “Bat Woman” Emily Peters)

Last week, North America was spreading the news about how bats are amazing creatures that are incredibly important to the ecosystem and to the economy. In addition to being Batman’s symbol of glory, bats perform several important ecological services such as pollinating flowers, seed dispersal, and pest control. A single bat will eat up to their body weight in insects every night! Think about it: how many McDonalds double cheeseburgers would we have to eat to do that? (Don’t try that at home, kids) These “insect vacuums” are great for farmers, as they act as a natural and FREE insecticide. That’s less chemicals on our food and more money going back to our economy, people.

Bat Week volunteers share in the festivities as they craft alongside the families who participated. Credit: Emily Peters

Bat Week volunteers share in the festivities as they craft alongside the families who participated. Credit: Emily Peters

So basically, bats are the coolest. They’re also kind of real life super heroes. I felt it was important that other people knew that too. What better way to show appreciation for bats than throwing a party?? Bats have an extra hurdle to jump over, as they are often viewed as scary creatures of the night that suck your blood (thanks a lot, Dracula). I aimed to change that idea, presenting educational information in the form of FUN. I decided to become the hero bats needed and joined my colleges in one of the nerdiest fiestas of the year: Bat Week.

Jr. "bat biologists" in training explore a huge inflatable bat cave. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Jr. “bat biologists” in training explore a huge inflatable bat cave. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

On the dawning of the event day, my brain buzzed with excitement and anxiety. It was the day of reckoning- my hard work over the last month was about to be put to the test. I awoke from a long night of restless sleep- feeling like a kid waiting for Santa all night. I wanted to cry, laugh, and vomit in a corner somewhere all at the same time. Yep, Bat Week was finally here!

A family proudly displays the bat box they built together during the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily peters

A family proudly displays the bat box they built together during the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

 

 

The event kicked off with an open house- filled with activities that families could have fun and get batty with. They checked their “bat-itudes,” determining which is truth or myth on statements like “All bats have rabies” and “Bats are flying rats” (both are myths, by the way). Visitors became bat biologists by fashioning helmets and headlamps to explore a giant inflatable bat cave, dodging stalactites and stalagmites along the way. They collected data on individual bats, measuring forearm lengths and weighing models in an attempt to identify individual species in an activity appropriately named “Working the Night Shift.” There were also plenty of bat-tastic crafts and giveaways, of course. Kids left with colorful bat hats, masks, and kites, handfuls of candy, and bat stickers galore. Overall, we had around 150 visitors participate in the evening’s events!

A family prepares to get "batty" and build a bat box together for Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

A family prepares to get “batty” and build a bat box together for Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

But the fiesta didn’t end there- families returned for a second night of celebration the following day, this time to build bat boxes. Participants who came on the second day understood and appreciated bats and were thankful for an opportunity to help the little heroes. Some of these participants came with this attitude naturally; others had adopted it from the first night of activities. A bat box is a great way to help bat species by providing a shelter for them to roost in. It also benefits the bat box owner since the bats living inside will feast on mosquito populations living the property. Good bye bug bites, hello bats!

Families worked together toward mutual conservation efforts, all by simply wielding a hammer. I ordered 30 bat box kits from Organization for Bat Conservation, and 30 bat boxes were built by the end of the night! There were around 80 participants throughout the evening. The assembled boxes were taken home by the family that built them, to be hung up on their properties in hopes of directly helping bat populations.

As the second night of batty fun came to a close, my emotions shifted from a state of anxiety to serenity. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in myself, along with relief! No major tragedies happened- nobody bled at any point, all appendages remained appropriately attached, my volunteers were rock stars, and everyone came and left with a smile on their face. Bat Week was over and it turned out better than I hoped for. I had done my duty in the battle for bats- it was time to hang up my cape.

But only for a little while…

Click here if you missed Peters’ introduction yesterday to her bat-tastic, Bat Week event!

She is Bat Woman

Emily Peters is an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Now in her second year of Americorps service, Peters continues to pursue one of her greatest life passions: connecting people to the environment through education. Throughout her career, Peters says she has had “incredible experiences of self-justification”, which demonstrate she is doing exactly what she is meant to do. Peters’ most recent experience was a two day celebration about one of nature’s most unique mammals: BATS.

And now, I turn this story over to Emily Peters, the real Bat Woman…

Peters (left) getting ready for day two of Bat Week - building bat boxes - with fellow AmeriCorps members, Lauren Merrill (middle) and Maddy Ball (right). Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Peters (left) getting ready for day two of Bat Week – building bat boxes – with fellow AmeriCorps members, Lauren Merrill (middle) and Maddy Ball (right). Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

This journey starts with a Bat Week event I planned last year. I will be honest: it was not my best work. I would like to say that I had exactly 7 days to coordinate the event, which is not an excuse but definitely played a role in the turnout. The outcome of this year’s event was partially influenced by some unasked-for critique I received from a local business owner in Elkins. She blatantly presented her opinion of the previous year, using words like “not fun,” “poorly advertised,” “bad” and “stupid.”

Despite the raging animal inside of me sharpening its claws, I kept my composure and put my professional face on. I thanked her for her input and explained that we did the best we could in the time that was provided. In reality, I had never been so insulted in my whole life. Did she not understand all the stress I went through to put that event together? Did she not understand that I was new and didn’t know Bat Week even existed until 7 days before!? I appreciate constructive criticism, but what she said was just plain mean. Needless to say, I took it very personally. So I used that negative energy to fuel my ambition for this year’s event.

When plans began to unfold for Bat Week 2015, I made a promise to myself that it would not get the same terrible review. I kept hearing this lady’s snide comments in my head and wanted to prove her wrong… SO wrong. In hindsight, I should thank her for pushing me to make the event bigger and better (but I’m stubborn and not going to). I put every ounce of my energy into planning the event this year and went above and beyond what any sane person planning a public event on their own would do.

Participants learn about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters

Participants learn about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters

The event featured 8 different interactive activities, each at different stations, with their own educational messages about bats and caves. I extended the event to last 2 days- ending with bat box building. The list of tasks I needed to complete never ended- it was filled with creating flyers, finding a venue, gathering all the supplies and organizing them into each station, distributing the flyers to every single student in all the elementary schools in the county, purchasing bat box kits, gathering tools and safety gear, advertising in general, and coordinating volunteers. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel overwhelmed at any point during the event planning.If you were to read my thoughts during the month I planned Bat Week, it would most likely be something like, “batsbatsbatsbatsbatsbats.” It was stressful, exhausting, my anxiety levels doubled, and I was not sleeping at night (was I becoming a bat!?). My point is: it was a lot of hard work.

Yet every second of it was absolutely worth it.

My Bat Week event was a HUGE success!! Over 200 visitors participated in the event throughout the 2 evenings! In case you don’t understand how small the town of Elkins is, trust me: that is a lot of people! Parents thanked me for my efforts, and children couldn’t wait to show off all of the new bat knowledge they had learned. On the second day, one mother stopped me on the sidewalk as I unloaded my ‘bat-mobile’, saying “Thank you so much for putting this bat event together, it’s wonderful. My kids loved it. They had a lot of fun last night and we will be coming back to build a bat box tonight.” I was ecstatic!

Families learned about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Families go batty for bat boxes on the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

I have a lot of people to thank for supporting me in my Bat Week ambitions. I have unlimited appreciation for all of my volunteers, who came from various backgrounds and organizations such as The Forest Service, WVDNR, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and AFHA AmeriCorps. The event would not have run without them! I also thank my co-workers for their support and encouragement throughout the planning process (as if they needed another reason to be amazing).

I really believe it’s one of life’s greatest feelings when you put all your energy into planning an event and it turns out incredibly successful. I know I did something right when both the kids and the parents can take value in their experience and walk away smiling. That outcome makes all the stress and anxiety melt away. It is why I work so hard doing something I truly love.

Peters may not don a cape (in public) or drive the Batmobile, but she owns her role as “Bat Woman” when it comes to educating the public about one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures.  Tune in tomorrow to read more about Peters’ batty adventures…

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.

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Emily Peters, Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member, serving at the Service’s field office in Elkins, West Virginia.

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.
  • Yes.

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.

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Kids check their bat-itudes and test their batty knowledge

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!”

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AFHA AmeriCorps member Paige Lansky prepares kids for the trek inside the giant inflatable bat cave

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.