|in an effort to educate
people about bats and their needed protection.
"It gets their attention," he explained.
Harnish has been employed by the Arkansas Parks Department for 24
years. When he first arrived at Devil's Den nearly 19 years ago, he
knew nothing of bats or the park's sandstone crevices they call home.
Interested in the endangered creatures and the geology of the area,
Harnish began to study them. His focus has lead to one of the most
popular annual events at the park, "Bat-O-Rama."
Batman Harry always appears during Bat-O-Rama, an entire weekend of
programs dedicated to one of the world's least understood and most
maligned creatures. This year the 14th annual Bat-O-Rama will take
place June 13-15. Programs include slide presentations and videos, a
bat house building demonstration, exploration of the sandstone
crevices at the park and a guest speaker.
During the summer, Harnish also shows a slide program on bats every
Saturday night at the park amphitheater. On Monday night he
demonstrates the bat detector, which enables visitors to hear the
ultra-high frequency sounds the bats make as they fly from their
shelters in search of food.
"People help me count them," Harnish said. "They definitely can see
bats if they come to Devil's Den in the summer. You can see hundreds
of them flying over the lake." On the hottest days of the year, the
bats move from the shelter to roost in the rafters of the café
pavilion. "So people can go down there anytime in the summer and see
the bats hanging out in the open," he added.
Bats can also be found hibernating in the park's crevices and caves,
which are some of the most unique elements of the park. "I've plotted
about 60 caves," Harnish said. "Most visitors know of only two -- the
Devil's Den and the Devil's Icebox. But up above that trail there are
crevices twice as deep. They're not off limits any time, but most
people don't know they are there because they're not on the trail
Bats hibernate in the caves at Devil's Den about five or six months
out of the year. The eastern pipistrelle, a common bat which is not
easily disturbed, can be found in the caves, as can two endangered
bats, the Indiana and the Ozark big-eared. The latter is the second
rarest species in the country. Because the endangered bats are easily
awakened, the cave in which they hibernate is closed to the public.
"A lot of people are just downright afraid of bats and are surprised
to learn they're not going to attack them," Harnish said. "If you
leave them alone, you have nothing to worry about. A lot of people
also think all bats have rabies. It's possible for them to get
rabies, but if they do, they get sick and die and flop on the ground.
The only time I'm really careful is when I see one on the ground."
Devil's Den also has a large colony of big brown bats. This year
there are more than 80 pregnant bats, which usually give birth to
twins. The pups will be born around Memorial Day weekend.
In addition to bats, Harnish's specialty interpretive topics at
Devil's Den are geology and Civilian Conservation Corps history.
Numerous interpretive programs are offered by Harnish and the park's
other interpreter, Kim Richter. The duo provides a wide variety of
slide programs -- on snakes, owls, vultures, butterflies. Trail walks
are also popular, including a twilight adventure hike. Harnish said
the 1.5-mile Devil's Den Trail is especially nice because of the
variety of topography it offers, including a creek, waterfall, bluff
and the sandstone crevices and caves.
When You Go
Camping and cabins are available at Devil's Den; but the cabins are
usually booked early. Group camping is also available. Devil's Den
has hiking, mountain biking and backpacking trails that lead to
caves, crevices and bluff overlooks. There is a café and swimming
pool overlooking the lake and a store offering groceries and gifts. A
horse camp area includes riding trails and a bathhouse.
To reach Devil's Den, travel eight miles south of Fayetteville on
Interstate 540 to exit 53 at West Fork, then proceed 17 miles
southwest on Ark. 170; or take I-540 to exit 45 at Winslow and go
seven miles west on Ark. 74. Note, trailers longer than 26 feet
should use exit 53. For more information, phone (479) 761-3325 or