Get up close and personal at Florida Bat Festival


A giant fruit bat spreads its wings for a group of people attending the Florida Bat Festival at the Lubee Bat Conservancy. The annual event returns Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the conservancy at 1309 NW 192nd Ave.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer/file
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.

In the spirit of the coming holiday, the Lubee Bat Conservancy will host its ninth annual Florida Bat Festival on Saturday.

Facts

Ninth Annual Florida Bat Festival

What: Event features educational and bat-themed children’s activities, vendors and opportunities to see bats up close.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lubee Bat Conservancy, 1309 NW 192nd Ave.
Admission: Free, donations accepted
Info: Batconservancy.org

Not to keep up the stereotype of bats on Halloween, however. The conservancy began opening the center at least once a year to the public for educational purposes, said Brian Pope, director of the Lubee Bat Conservancy.

“Bats are portrayed as scary but we wanted to get away from that,” he said.

The festival, which is held the last Saturday of October each year, will be at the conservancy’s 110-acre ranch at 1309 NW 192nd Ave., which is off County Road 231 north of Gainesville.

“I think one of the things people get a kick out of seeing is the biggest species of bats in the world,” Pope said, “they grow up to 6 feet wingspan.”

The event serves as an opportunity for the community to learn about environmental issues as well as those that bats face not just in Florida but globally as well, he said.

“It helps us become more integrated with the community,” Pope said.

This year, the festival will include bat-themed craft activities and games for kids, educational exhibits, bouncy huts provided by Space Walk, presentations by bat experts, and an opportunity to see the 210 live fruit bats on exhibit in the facility’s bat zone.

Pumpkin, watermelon and other treats will be placed near the entrance of the bat’s cages in order to get them closer to visitors so that they may see the bats expand their wings.

The event also will include about 30 vendors and live music from Lindsey Dank, who plays the didgeridoo, along with a small drum line, said Tristin Ballentine, festival coordinator.

Organizations providing information include the Florida Bat Conservancy, which partners with the Lubee Bat Conservancy, along with the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Alachua County Master Gardeners and Hogtown Herps, which will have reptiles for children to interact with, Balletine said. Vendors will sell bat-related merchandise such as bat houses and food, including David’s Real Pit BBQ, at the festival as well.

A fundraising raffle will offer a total of 20 raffle prizes, a higher amount than usual thanks to the conservancy’s sponsors, Ballentine said.

Some of the prizes come from Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts, Pro Taekwondo, Alachua Restaurant Group, Gainesville Health & Fitness and Amelia’s Italian Cuisine, she said.

“We’re hoping that we promote education locally about the bats ...but we want to do it in a fun way,” Ballentine said.

The event attracted about 4,000 people last year, and Pope said he expects attendance to increase this year.

“It’s grown considerably throughout the years,” he said.

Ballentine said that in recent years the festival was held on the same weekend of University of Florida football games but since no game is planned on Saturday, she expects more people to attend.

The conservancy schedules tours throughout the year, but the festival is the only day it opens doors to walk-in visitors and larger groups.

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