The new energy people are bringing to the Hillsborough River downtown thanks to the Riverwalk is bad news for bats.
As dusk falls, pedestrians who approach the Laurel Street bridge over the river are very likely to hear the flapping of so many tiny wings, and glimpse the shadows of the city’s local bat population coming for dinner.
At certain times, thousands of them can be found under the bridge, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Consveration Commission report, which is too close to the new crowds of people for either bat or human to be comfortable.
so to take action, Robin Nigh, the city’s arts program manager, went looking for advice on relocating a bat house that would both draw away the creatures and not be an eyesore.
“None of us really knew a lot about bats,” said Nigh, who turned to biologist Steve Barlow for help.
Barlow designed the renowned bat houses on the University of Florida campus in Gainseville, which provides shelter for hundreds of thousands of bats, and are considered some of the best in the world.
Francine Prager, who runs the conservation organization Tampa Bay Bats, also joined the effort.
The search effort settled on Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, now undergoing a $35.6 million remake — close enough to water but far enough away from the densest parts of downtown.
Prager said there’s really no reason people should worry about bats, on the Riverwalk or anywhere else. But they do, feeding misconceptions that the creatures are vicious, swarming bloodsuckers.
“They don’t want anything to do with people,” she said. “If they approach you, it’s only because you have insects flying around you, whether you know it or not.”
Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park is 23 acres of green space that was getting far less use than it should for its size and riverfront location, city planners said. In 2014, the city launched a major renovation
Slated for completion in March or April, the work will add new waterway access points, athletic spaces and a concert area along the next frontier of the Riverwalk — the west side of the Hillsborough River.
And now, it will include a bat house.