- 185-acre nature preserve proposed near Bear Creek in Hannibal Dec. 9, 2015
- Preserve to benefit bats, humans Dec. 11, 2015
- Hannibal City Council approves accepting land for nature preserve Dec. 16, 2015
A proposal that would see a 185-acre wildlife preserve established on the southern border of Hannibal was announced Wednesday morning by the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department through a media release.
The city has reportedly been working in conjunction with The Conservation Fund (TCF), a national nonprofit organization, to acquire the land near Bear Creek for the proposed Sodalis Nature Preserve.
“I think this is an exciting project,” said City Manager Jeff LaGarce.
Neither the cost of the land, nor how much, if anything, the city’s share might be were disclosed Wednesday.
According to its website, the TCF utilizes a Revolving Fund. Money from that fund is used as “ready capital for acquisition of lands and waters of high conservation value.” It adds that upon “repayment” the fund is replenished for use to make other acquisitions.
If approved by the City Council at its Tuesday, Dec. 15, meeting, the city would move to acquire the land which would create the second largest park in the city, behind only 465-acre Riverview Park. Currently 63-acre Huckleberry Park is Hannibal’s second largest park.
According to the release issued by the Parks & Recreation Department and TCF, the “property is of national importance because of the large population of endangered Indiana bats that hibernate in the winter months in the cave network, located beneath the property’s surface.”
In addition to providing protection for the endangered bats, public recreational access to the property would be created through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF). E-mails were sent to those entities seeking details on what their partnership with the city will entail. A spokesman for the INHF declined to comment, saying the city and TCF would provide more information later in the week. A spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missouri said she was not familiar with the project.
Reportedly the purchase of the property and its management is funded through the Flanagan South Pipeline Mitigation fund made available by Enbridge Inc., which supports mitigation for impacts to endangered species and migratory birds resulting from construction of the pipeline.
Officials with the Parks & Recreation Department declined further comment on Wednesday beyond the media release, explaining that additional information, plus a tour of the site, will be provided to the media on Friday, Dec. 11.
According to its website, one of TCF’s primary objectives is the protection of land, water and wildlife. TCF reports that since its establishment in 1985 it has worked in all 50 states to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land.
In 2013, TCF played a role in the protection of key historic lands for the establishment of First State National Monument in Delaware and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland. It also completed that year a decade-long effort to reunite and conserve a 30-mile forested property on California’s North Coast with the purchase of Buckeye Forest.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, the Indiana bat was listed as endangered in 1967 after hibernating bats were disturbed by humans during winter months, resulting in the death of large numbers of bats.
In Missouri, the 2015 estimated population of Indiana bats is 185,693, which represents 35.5 percent of the species’ total population – 523,636. Missouri’s Indiana bat population is second only to Indiana’s.
In late October, a survey of bats was conducted in the Cameron Cave on the grounds of the Mark Twain Cave Complex in southern Hannibal. That survey was intended to determine how many of the creatures found in the cave were suffering from white-nose syndrome, an illness that has reportedly killed over a million bats since 2006.
- Preserve to benefit bats, humans Dec. 11, 2015
During a City Hall briefing Friday, Andy Dorian, director of the Parks & Recreation Department called the creation of the 185-acre wildlife preserve, which will be called the Sodalis Nature Preserve, a “once-in-a-generation park.”
“We’ve been blessed with Riverview (Park) and this is going to be comparable,” he said. “Very few communities have something like this, if any. It’s going to be an amazing recreational/educational asset to the community.”
The project has come about because the mines have become the wintertime home of a large congregation of endangered Indiana bats.
“This is the largest known site for Indiana bats in the world, right here in Hannibal,” said Shauna Marquardt of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s significant to the Fish & Wildlife Service, since it’s our mission to conserve and recover endangered species. We truly could not recover the Indiana bat and protect it over the long term without permanent protection of this site.”
“We found out this particular site has 30 percent of the world’s population of one individual bat. It’s absolutely critical for that bat’s survival at this particular site,” said Clint Miller of The Conservation Fund (TCF), a national nonprofit organization, who has been working on the preserve project for over a year.
After identifying the significance of the former mine site, TCF “approached the landowner and negotiated purchase of the property,” according to Miller.
The property is being purchased from a group identified only as LCM Properties. While not revealing the negotiated price for the property, Miller said in excess of $2 million has been set aside for the Hannibal project out of a $22 million pool of money from the Flanagan South Pipeline Mitigation fund.
Miller stressed the money the city is receiving is not a loan.
“There is no requirement for the city to pay anything back,” he said. “This is a project that is not costing in an immediate sense the city any money. It’s a gift from The Conservation Fund.”
Money has already been spent to prepare the site. Specially-constructed gates have been built and set in place at each of the 33 mine entrances “that allow the bats to come in and out of the mine, but keep people out, keep people safe,” said Miller, adding that between $400,000 and $500,000 has been set aside with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation for future repair or replacement of the bat gates.
A number of old buildings, dating back to when the mines were being operated, have been torn down.
“We looked at options trying to stabilize those and have those available for use by the city, but there really was no option. They had to come down,” said Miller.
Also completed at the site has been some road work.
“We actually built a road into the site that was necessary to bring the heavy equipment in. That road will become part of the new trail system, hopefully extending the Bear Creek Trail. We left that road in pretty much condition to pave,” said Miller.
A portion of the trail system will be paved for use by walkers and bikers.
“We really want to pave it because it gets more people on the property. It will get more people recreating and more people getting to learn about the bats, which is really important,” said Dorian, adding that the “paved trail system is just a fraction of the trail system throughout the park,” explaining that decades of ATVs running through the site has created numerous trails.
Dorian says some preliminary work on a parking area could begin before the end of the year.
The City Council will be asked to accept the property at its Tuesday, Dec. 15, meeting. Included in the agreement will be a conservation easement that will assure the property will always remain a park and the mine gates in place to protect the bats.
A formal dedication date has been set for April 17, 2016, which is National Bat Appreciation Day.
The Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department was cleared Tuesday night to accept enough land to rank as the city’s second largest park. But while there will be plenty of bats, there will be no balls with which to play a game or bases to run at the site.“It’s different from a park. It’s not going to have a playground and things like that because it’s a nature preserve,” Andy Dorian, director of the Parks & Recreation Department, reported to the City Council, which voted unanimously to accept the 185 acres, plus the accompanying conservation easement which assures the property will remain a wildlife preserve in the future.
With the Council’s approval now in hand, The Conservation Fund (TCF), a national nonprofit organization, will now move forward with the purchase of the land from LCM Properties. Closing on the transaction is tentatively scheduled to occur some time in January 2016. The funds being used to purchase the site, which borders Bear Creek, are being provided entirely by TCF. The cost TCF has agreed to pay for the land has not been made public.
TCF has been working on the development for over a year, after it was determined that the former 17-mile mine system serves as the winter home for one-third of the world’s population of the endangered Indiana bat.
“It’s a significant piece of property for bats in this country,” said Dorian, noting that other species of bats also utilize the former Marblehead Lime Company mines.
To keep people from disturbing the hibernating bats, Dorian explained that all 33 known entrances into the mines have been gated.
“It’s a lot of steel. It’s impressive,” he said, adding that an endowment will be set aside that provides money for the repair or replacement of gates in the future.
According to Dorian, the Sodalis Nature Preserve is already attracting scientists from around the country.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. “Any time you have a chance to protect any species it’s great.”
But protecting bats is only part of the nature preserve’s appeal.
“Another reason we’re excited, other than the bats, is the trails,” said Dorian. “The largest request we get is for more trails. This piece of property is going to offer a significant amount of miles for off-road trails for people who like mountain biking and hiking. It’s also going to allow us to extend the Bear Creek Trail along Bear Creek and past the mines with a paved trail.”
Work on the trail system will commence in 2016, according to Dorian. The creation of parking lots could begin soon, added the head of the Parks Department.
Asked about security at the preserve, which for years has been a hot bed of ATV activity, Dorian said he hopes the public will help monitor the site.
“A good reason for the asphalt paths is it allows more people into the park. When it’s rustic not as many people get in there. We’re hoping that the public floods the place and their eyes and ears help keep the vandalism down,” he said.