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From bats to better

From bats to better
From bats to better
The Wyandotte Group Camp has enriched the lives of Harrison County since 1934. (click for larger version)

There is a miracle taking place just west of Corydon. Oh, it may not look like a miracle to some, but it is. It may just appear to be a group of empty green buildings standing in the middle of O’Bannon Woods State Park. But to those who came here over the years, it is a place of wonderful memories and new awakenings.
If you attended the sixth grade in Corydon, you probably packed up your overnight clothes for a nature study weekend and came home on Sunday with a new set of eyes for bugs, trees and your fellow campers. If you have attended an Emmaus Walk in Harrison County, it likely was in this wilderness area that you found solitude for spiritual growth. Or perhaps you joined members of your church at the group camp and found fellowship and guidance. Others of you may have gathered in a family reunion to share the important things of life, the things that often get shoved to the side in your everyday setting. The sign out front reads ‘Wyandotte Group Camp’ and has since 1934.
No one is retreating to the Wyandotte Group Camp these days. It was closed because another of God’s creatures lives there now. Nestled beneath the faded green wooden siding on the outside of the buildings are bats. Perhaps thousands of bats. The narrow crack between building and 1970s’ siding is the perfect summer home for these often misunderstood creatures. Bats normally find such housing between the bark and the core of an old tree. However, with the aging of the camp buildings came warping and rotting of boards and the loosening of nails. This has formed the perfect daytime napping centers for bats.
It isn’t the very presence of these nocturnal fliers that caused the evacuation of the people from the camp. Oh, I know, some folks think they will get in their hair or turn into vampires. But bats really don’t bother people. Now, for mosquitoes, it is another story. A bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour or up to 6,000 to 8,000 on an evening flight. They do dart and swoop in this eating frenzy, and it is probably the uncertainty of their route that unnerves us. We used to entertain our children by holding them on our laps while sitting in reclining chairs and watching the darting dance of the bats that lived in our woods. It was quite a show. To this day, I love to sit on my porch by the pond at our farm and watch the bats swoop over the water, catching the biting bugs before they can bite me. No bug spray is ever needed at our house.
The bats at the group camp would be a welcome neighbor if it weren’t for the bat excrement. These bat droppings form great fertilizer for gardens but bad health risks for humans. Believe me, thousands of bats can create quite a pile-up of you-know-what over a summer. So, the Wyandotte Group Camp was closed by Ranger Bob Sawtelle, the park manager, for health reasons.
Upon hearing of this situation, hundreds of folks have contacted the park offering to help in the remediation of the bat refuse, the removal of the siding and the remodeling of the buildings. These folks know from first-hand experience that a retreat with other people to the woods of Southern Indiana meant a powerful experience for all. Electricians, stone masons, carpenters, and planners, to name a few, have all stepped up and scheduled days to work.
Rock walls originally built by young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depression of the 1930s will be straightened and fortified. Four dormitories that can house about a hundred people will be stripped and resided with modern bat-proof material and upgraded with modern heating, cooling and lighting. All this work will be done with qualified volunteer labor. We need only to raise the money for materials that will be needed.
The dining hall is free now of bats and can be used as the gathering place for workers. Imagine the stories that will be swapped and the friends made during a good meal prepared by great Southern Indiana volunteer cooks.
Read most literature and comb spiritual writings and you will find that societies have always seen the vital and healthy link between man and nature. It used to be easy to find one’s relationship to the environment when we were mainly an agricultural community. But now, with our urban life-styles, we are often separated from the cycles of the seasons, the common needs of all living things and the beauty of the earth. We can see, in our current concerns for the environment, the disconnects that we have between our values and our practices. It is harder and harder to stop our flight into total technology and our separation from nature and other people. Kids don’t just automatically become engaged with the broader natural world.
Today’s adults who develop environmentally-friendly products or fill our campgrounds learned the importance of good stewardship of Mother Nature’s bounty while in science classes at places like the Wyandotte Group Camp.
Certainly, day trips to the country are a wondrous delight, but there is something added by an overnight in a common dorm room. Often for kids, it is their first opportunity to be with such a variety of people. While focusing on a shared experience, we learn that we have more in common than we have differences. Think of the lessons and stories that will be passed on in the years to come.
Just as the bats found that their community flourished at the Wyandotte Group Camp, so will we again realize that there is something necessary as well as exciting about hanging out together in the woods of Southern Indiana.