HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal's newest park and one of the region's most unique natural areas will be formally dedicated during a two-day celebration next weekend.
The Sodalis Nature Preserve on Hannibal's far south side will be the center of attention Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22.
The 185-acre park -- the wintering habitat for a third of the world's endangered Indiana bats -- will be dedicated at 4:30 p.m. Friday during a program at the preserve's parking lot, 700 Ely St.
Several speakers will give talks, including Michael Bean, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
A guided hike of the preserve will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday. It will feature a viewing of the nightly bat emergence from cave openings in the amphitheater area. Eight species of bats live in the former mining operation, and many bats routinely emerge at dusk to feed on insects.
Participants are encouraged to bring flashlights and suitable footwear.
Mary Lynne Richards, recreation supervisor for the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department, said the guided tour and emergence viewing will take place "unless it's raining real hard." In the event of a downpour, the dedication speeches will be moved to the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center, 301 Warren Barrett Drive.
More activities will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the recreation center as part of "BatFest" -- an event celebrating the role bats play in the environment.
The schedule includes a program on urban bat conservation at 10:30 a.m. by representatives of the Missouri Bat Census; a talk at 11:30 a.m. on bat ecology and white-nose syndrome -- a deadly disease affecting bats -- by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; a program at 12:30 p.m. on "Missouri Bats" by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the FWS; and a program at 1:30 p.m. on the history of lime kiln mines by Louis Riggs, a Hannibal-LaGrange University professor.
BatFest also will offer exhibitions and family-friendly activities about bats, including the "Inflatable Bat Cave Experience."
The city of Hannibal acquired the 185-acre Sodalis site at no cost through a $2 million acquisition arranged by the Conservation Fund, which bought the site with environmental mitigation dollars obtained from the Flanagan South Pipeline project.
The site was mined for years by the old Marblehead Lime Co., which halted mining operations in the 1970s. The vacated mines -- along with several miles of interconnecting tunnels -- later became one of the nation's foremost gathering spots for endangered Indiana bats.
The site is now closed to motor vehicles to minimize disruption of the bats. The Parks and Recreation Department, meanwhile, has been developing the park as a quiet, scenic spot for hiking, biking and other outdoor activities.
Richards said a new two-mile paved trail has been getting steady use.
"There are people walking it all day long and on the weekends," she said. "You see tons of people running, walking and kids on bikes and scooters. It's just been so popular. And we needed it. We didn't have a lot of pedestrian trails in Hannibal."