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Blairsville looks to establish bat colony along riverfront trail

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 11:12 a.m.
Ken Anthony | For The Dispatch
Technology education students at Blairsville High School recently constructed several bat boxes to provide new homes for the small winged mammals along Blairsville's Riverfront Trail. Borough officials hope the bats will help control mosquitoes to make hiking and biking along the wooded path more pleasant. Shown with some of the completed boxes (from left) are instructor Michael Funyak, juniors Tyler Lenhart and Jake Swienki, Blairsville Borough manager Tim Evans, borough councilman Ab Dettorre and juniors Caleb Kuntz, Cory Black and Jon Graff.

Leisure time spent on the Riverfront Trail in Blairsville could come with fewer bug bites in the future thanks to a recent collaboration between Blairsville High School students and the borough.

Students from Mike Funyak's shop class built eight bat boxes based on Pennsylvania Game Commission specifications after Blairsville Borough Council member Ab Dettorre suggested the project.

“We're thankful to the kids and, of course, Mike Funyak, who directed them,” said Dettorre, a retired teacher at the school. “It's just one of many cooperative ideas I think you can have with your local schools. Not to mention the fact that there's five or six kids there who on down the road can walk through there and say ‘Hey, I built that.' It takes a little ownership in it and a little more pride, and the more of that, the better. They did a really nice job.”

The boxes will provide places for bats to roost and establish colonies, and the area around the Riverfront Trail will provide the bats with an ample food supply.

“People are often misguided about (bats), but I felt that if we could establish a colony, based on everything I've read about them, down there it would alleviate a lot of the mosquitoes,” Dettorre said. “Sometimes they're worse than others, but you definitely have a big body of water there, so you're going to have mosquitoes there, too.”

All eight bat boxes have been installed, according to borough manager Tim Evans, but he indicated it could take two or three years for the colony to develop.

“The concept is that the bat population will increase as they use the boxes for homes during the day,” Evans said. “Then they come out after sunset and eat the bugs so the bugs don't eat us.”

Each bat can consume thousands of mosquitoes and flying insects per night, making them a crucial component of the ecosystem and benefiting humans by keeping insect populations in check.

“As far as the Game Commission is concerned, we're concerned first for those bats, but when you deal with wildlife issues, ultimately you deal also with people issues,” Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said. “Farmers' groups have expressed concern over the decline of the bat population and what that might do to farming practices, requiring them to use more pesticides, increasing the cost of their operations. ... I think everyone, particularly those who live in areas with high mosquito populations, can appreciate the ecological role the bat plays in keeping insect numbers down.”

After students from Derry Area High School donated bat boxes to Keystone State Park in Derry Township earlier this spring, park manager Kris Baker shared a unique strategy for attracting bats to the new boxes: splashing a mixture of bat droppings, or guano, and water on the base of the pole.

“You can really tell how many are going in there by the amount of guano at the bottom of the post. It's not classy, it's not glamorous, but it's effective,” Baker said. “... You can probably fit over a hundred in one of these. They pack in there tight.”

Once bat colonies are established in the boxes, the winged mammals should give the borough free, environmentally-friendly bug control near the popular biking and walking trail.

“You can't get any cheaper labor than that,” Dettorre said of the bats' bug-consumption capabilities.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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