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Taking A Swing At Bat Myths Volunteer Teaches Youngsters Benefits Of Nocturnal Flying Mammals

If bats, those furry flying mammals, had a public relations firm, it would be run by Allison Vinci.

“Most people aren’t aware of their benefits,” Vinci said Tuesday, after helping about 50 Ponderosa Elementary School students build 10 wooden bat houses.

“The benefits outweigh the negative press,” she said, laughing.

As an AmeriCorps volunteer with the state Parks and Recreation Department, Vinci has spent the last few weeks teaching two elementary classes all about bats.

The bat project, funded by Washington Water Power Co. and the Ponderosa Parent-Teacher Organization, is winding down with the placement of bat houses around the playground.

The briefcase-sized houses will be mounted about 30 to 40 feet up on ponderosa pine trees - high enough that the children won’t disturb them.

The entrance is in the bottom. The roof is insulated and the front and back panels have slits for ventilation. The design has been found very effective by Bat Conservation International, the bats’ actual PR firm.

“People mine their caves. We’re giving them a home in our trees,” said Ben Schooley, a fifth-grader who claims no fear of the nocturnal creatures.

“Dogs are more likely to have rabies than bats,” he said authoritatively.

Schoolmate Kyle Blaski explained the usual distaste for bats this way: “What people don’t know, they don’t like. You shouldn’t be afraid of them just because some people have crazy or nutty ideas about them.”

Vinci hurried from group to group, helping the students screw the pieces of the houses together and slide in the screen-covered panels that the bats will cling to as they sleep.

“Two hundred and fifty can fit in there,” said fifth-grader Erika Allen.

“Five hundred can fit in one square foot!” her group of five students nearly shouted together, amazed at this bat fact they’d gleaned from Vinci.

Another student, Steven Johnston, admitted he used to think bats were large, too large to fit into the narrow spaces of the bat multi-family dwelling.

“I didn’t really think about bats until she came,” he said of Vinci. Now he and his classmates even know the proper word for bat scat: guano.

The location of the future bat colonies is ideal, Vinci said. They’ll be close to the Spokane River, which should have a healthy supply of insects for them to eat. Bats have been spied flitting about the school grounds, according to principal Bob Sloyka.

Vinci will continue to debunk bat myths during a “bat walk” with her bat detector through Q’emiln Park in Post Falls on June 8. The walk is from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.