Bat Challenge

Tongass School of Arts and Sciences sixth grader Elissa and fifth grader Velvet Staples use a map to find an itinerary stop in a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service "Bat Challenge" on Oct. 8 during Batty Maps Day at Ward Lake. Students searched for multiple bat stations designated along the Ward Lake Nature Trail and answered a series of questions about bat habitats. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Fifth- and sixth-graders at Tongass School of Arts and Sciences spent a chilly morning earlier this month walking around Ward Lake as they put their knowledge of bats to the test with officials from the U.S. Forest Service leading the way during "Batty Maps Day."

The educational event — which spanned most of the morning on Oct. 8, and ended with lunch at the Ward Lake Day Use Area — was presented as a way to teach students about conservation education and outreach to the community. During October, the U.S. Forest Service is promoting conservation education activities about bats through in-person and virtual events every Friday. International Bat Week starts on Sunday and goes through Oct. 31, according to online conservation education information from the Forest Service.  The Forest Service hosts conservation education activities for students on varying topics every month.

U.S. Forest Service Visitor Services Representative Hazel Brewi spoke to the Daily News about the event before the students arrived on Friday.

"It's a lot of fun," Brewi told the Daily News. "The kids get a little bit of just kind of snippets about bats and bats conservation; they're encouraged to research bats and their precarious position in the world right now."

Brewi noted that in the Tongass National Forest, "(the) primary one is the little brown bat and they do migrate south in the winter. But you will find them around in the summer."

 To teach the students bat facts from fiction, Brewi, Willie Smith and Mason Boomgarden of the Forest Service set up fun games to play at the lake on Friday.

"And so what we did is set up a scavenger hunt course around that goes around the lake and has little bats hanging, and then the questions that are true-false statements and the kids have to figure out the cardinal directions that they need to move,"Brewi said.

The questions were positioned all around the lake, and students took a walk around the lake in groups, carrying clipboards and writing down their guesses to the true-or-false statements.

In addition to searching for the bat facts, students also played a game of Simon Says with Smith, who helped teach the group their cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) before they set off around the lake.

Brewi noted that another event like the one completed by the TSAS group would be held for homeschooled students later that afternoon.

The Daily News also spoke with Mason Boomgarden of the U.S. Forest Service about the day's activities.

"I think they were enjoying it pretty well," he said. "I didn't hear any complaints."

Fifth-grader Leila McLean told the Daily News that she learned "bats can be the size of a bumblebee."

"At school I saw one, and then at my house, in my backyard," McLean said.

"One thing I didn't know is that they are on seven different continents," TSAS student Hayden McMahon added. "Out of the seven I thought they were on three or two or one, and that was pretty cool and interesting to me."

Ursula Whiteley, a TSAS sixth-grader, agreed with McLean.

"Nature's kind of weird like that," she commented.

Whiteley said other than that, she knew all the other bat facts presented to her during the scavenger hunt.

Katelyn Warren said she's seen bats flying around at TSAS.

"I love bats, because they're cute and they look so soft," Warren said.

More information about conservation education activities happening during October is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/about-forest/offices/?cid=fseprd816054