Volume 17, Issue 4, Winter 1999

Members in Action: Harry Harnish

By Ivy, Joan

By Joan Ivy

The Cline family of Clarksville, Arkansas, makes an unusual pilgrimage every year. After donning bat T-shirts and buttons, they tie “batdanna” scarves around their Rotweillers’ necks and head to the annual Bat-o-Rama at Arkansas’ Devil’s Den State Park near Fayetteville. Like many other visitors, the Clines have been coming to this event for the last decade because of one dedicated chiropteran crusader—park interpreter Harry Harnish. Harnish created Bat-o-Rama in 1990, and it now draws crowds in the hundreds—and sometimes more than a thousand—from Arkansas and surrounding states. From slide programs to guided hikes to bat-house-building demonstrations, his two-and-a-half-day festival offers batty activities for everyone.

Early on, there weren’t many signs that Harnish would become the “Batman” of northwest Arkansas. Although he had more than 20 years experience as an interpreter, Harnish had never encountered a bat before arriving at Devil’s Den in the mid-1980s. Once there, he learned about the park’s colony of endangered Ozark big-eared bats (Corynorhinus townsendii ingens). Determined to map the many caves in the park (more than 60 in one ten-acre area), Harnish set out to make a notation of every cave opening he came across. Upon returning to one of the least accessible openings, Harnish and a caver friend discovered a room with unfamiliar bats. Armed with a detailed description, he called a bat knowledgeable colleague and was told that his mystery species was, in fact, the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis).

With this discovery, Harnish was hooked on bats and joined BCI, determined to learn all he could. He then attended one of BCI’s Bat Conservation and Management Workshops and began experimenting with bat houses at the park. Harnish currently oversees nine houses of varying sizes that have attracted both bachelor and maternity colonies of big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus). He meticulously records his tenants’ activities each year for BCI’s North American Bat House Research Project. This past year, his maternity colony had 45 pups and moved between houses more than 12 times!

As Harnish’s bat expertise grew, word of his knowledge spread, and he became known as the regional authority. In the past, teachers had asked Harnish to make presentations to their students on mammals, insects, and other nature topics. In more recent years, 95 percent of requests have been specifically for bat talks. Harnish estimates having educated more than 20,000 people through Bat-o-Rama and other appearances, and his efforts have won him the “Director’s Special Commendation” for “improving the public’s awareness and attitude toward bats” from the Director of Arkansas State Parks.

In addition to monitoring bat houses, Harnish also keeps watch over the bats’ natural homes in caves, crags, and crevices throughout the park. When he found trash and other evidence of human intrusion in an important big-eared bat roost, it was clear the interpretive sign warning people to stay out was not adequate. Because the cave entrance wasn’t suitable for gating, Harnish decided to create an alarm instead. He contacted the inventor of the spelogger—a device that measures light occurrences—and asked him to make some alterations. With grant money from
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the new customized device was installed and wired to buzz the park office when anyone with a light entered the cave [BATS, Summer 1992]. Harnish is satisfied this is a more powerful deterrent
to would-be cave intruders, and reports that to date, the device has caught people on two occasions. In both instances, the parties were fined for trespassing.

As Bat-o-Rama approaches its eleventh year, Harnish is once again busy on his batmobile phone (one of many gifts from bat fans) making arrangements for this year’s activities. Plans are still in the works (see right), so interested attendees should call the park first to confirm dates. Now that word is out to all of BCI’s members, perhaps Harnish will see his largest crowd ever.

Joan Ivy is Associate Editor of BATS.


11th Annual Bat-o-Rama
BCI Public Information Manager Bob Benson will be the guest speaker at this year’s Bat-o-Rama. We are pleased to announce that Benson will take this opportunity to present BCI’s Distinguished Service Award to Harry Harnish, in recognition of Harnish’s unwavering commitment to bat conservation and public education.

June 9-11, 2000 is the tentative date for Bat-o-Rama XI. Activities begin Friday night with a slide program about the park bats. Saturday includes bat- house-building, films, games, and the evening guest speaker. Sunday’s crevice exploration hike takes place in the morning, followed by an audiovisual program.

For more information, contact:
Devil’s Den State Park
Attn: Harry Harnish
11333 W. AR Hwy. 74

West Fork, AR 72774
(501) 761-3325


Left: The most popular event at Bat-o-Rama, Harnish’s “crevice hike” introduces visitors to bats’ natural habitats.

Far left: Children huddle around Harnish to get a peek at one of the Devil’s Den resident big brown bats.

Left: Harnish shows off a gift from loyal bat fans the Cline family at “Bat-o-Rama X” last summer.

BCI member Dale Cline displays buttons from every year of the festival.

All articles in this issue:

Sorry, no PDF available.