On Sept. 10, Bear Creek Nature Center (BCNC) in Palmetto, Ga. held their second annual Bat Fest, an event that not only educates the public about bats but also excites the community for Halloween and fall season. Despite the location and drive, visitors from all parts of West Georgia from Atlanta to Douglasville dropped by to appreciate bats and support the local wildlife center.
“Bat Fest was definitely a success,” said Norma Lewis, BCNC’s director and lead naturalist. “Despite the day being gloomy and misty. Lots of compliments from visitors as they were leaving. Many visitors came at 2 p.m. and stayed until 8!”
The event included a tractor-pulled hay wagon, canoes, and hiking along with crafts, face painting, and balloon animals. Additionally, BCNC offered an introductory felting workshop taught by a local artist.
“[We also had] a food truck, which was still new to us,” says Lewis. “When I tell people there’s a food truck, they say ‘oh, we’ll come just for the food truck.’ So obviously, food trucks are pretty popular right now. We invited Jalapeno Express.”
The special programs included live bat encounters, talks and exhibits presented in partnership with Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), USDA Forest Service and the Georgia State Museum.
“Trina from Georgia DNR [brought] a heat sensitive camera and an Anabat [Walkabout Active Bat Detector] to set up near the dock in the evening,” says Lewis. “Anabat lets you see the echolocation on the screen and the heat camera lets you see the heat of the bats as they fly through.”
“Some students from the University of West Georgia who are doing graduate research on bats also came,” Lewis continued. “They set up a demonstration net and work with Trina too.”
This upcoming spring, BCNC plans to host Pollinator Day, a day of education surrounding pollinators including hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other vital critters in every flora ecosystem.
In December of 2021, BCNC hosted their first Reptile Rally, an event celebrating reptiles and educating the public about reptiles in partnership with other wildlife organizations including Quail Forever, the DNR, and reptile rescue organizations. While the event was a success, the cold weather and slow reptiles prompted BCNC to hold the event again in June.
“What surprised us is how the events have taken off,” said Lewis. “Pollinator Day in May was a fairly small turnout, as was expected for a first time event. But for Reptile Rally, that was an event that Cochran Mill Nature Center— the previous nature center— did for many years in conjunction with Georgia Reptile Society and Georgia Herp Association and Rescue. We were shocked that we had over 600 interested on Facebook.”
Reptile Rally successfully served close to 450 people, which surpassed not just BCNC’s expectations, but also surpassed the records held by Cochran Mill Nature Center which shut down in 2017.
BCNC opened in 2020 and received a slow start with the pandemic. However, thanks to funding from patrons, the county and the community’s support, BCNC was able to hire a part-time employee after only having one full-time employee since opening.
“Now that Covid restrictions have been lifted and schools can take field trips and things like that, suddenly, business has exploded,” says Lewis. “So we’ve been pretty busy with programs with home school groups as well as school groups, and we’ve had a lot of scout groups also for badge work programs.”
From ecology skills to meeting animal ambassadors, BCNC offers an educational environment for all guests with more additions to the family underway.
“Right now, [the volunteers] are rearranging shelving because we’ve got some new animals coming in from the University of Alabama,” says Lewis. “They’re from their teaching collection in medical research— They weren’t used in research, they were education animals.”
The new exhibits arriving before 2023 will include tree frogs, aquatic turtles, a black snake, a king snake and an amphiuma which is a snake-like amphibian, all of which are native Georgian species. BCNC also recently adopted two axolotls which have become instant visitor favorites.
For more information or to find out when their new animals arrive, visit their Facebook page or their website bearcreeknaturecenter.org, additionally they can be followed at @bearcreekatl on Instagram.