Bats and Kids on the Night Trail

Shingobee chalet is ready for the event!I ask the same question every year to volunteers at the annual Howl O Ween event at Shingobee Hills on the Chippewa National Forest. What do pumpkins have to do with a U. S. Forest Service program? It does seem like a stretch when you first think about it, but the answer comes easily when people experience Howl O Ween for the first time. It’s all about National Bat Week and helping people get comfortable exploring the Forest at night.

Twenty-five pumpkins, carved with animal tracks, are set out on a short loop trail. These luminaries provide a guiding light to lead families out to find eight bat information stations. Armed with their bat scavenger hunt questions, children read find answers about bats at the station. How many bats are in Minnesota? Which bats overwinter here?  They learn about baby bats and white-nosed syndrome and bring their answers back to the historic Shingobee chalet.

Inside the chalet, families make bat masks, bat hats and create a bat mural next to the warm fireplace. They examine the bat skeleton and other pieces from the Forest Service bat learning kit. Everyone enjoys a cup of hot chocolate before adventuring out one more time along the loop trail or roasting a marshmallow at the campfire outside.

Outside we howl across the trail, the children return from their second loop around and tell me they found the critters we hid along the trail or another bat fact they learned. The pumpkin luminaries continue their friendly glow.  By the end of the evening, our group of seven volunteers counted up over 100 visitors on our little night hike!

Twenty-five pumpkins. Candles from a garage sale. A couple bags of marshmallows. Unexpected ingredients for a Forest Service program. It adds to 100 visitors and a night that’s all about National Bat week and developing a lifetime of excitement for bats.

Participants hiking on a trail.