Design contest will give bats near Great Salt Lake a new home

SALT LAKE CITY -- Conservationists are teaming up with an architectural firm to learn more about bats in Utah.

Bats may get a bad rap from some, but they are critical for our environment and a new bat barn will help experts study the animals further.

“We’re really excited to have people who know what they’re doing design this bat barn, make it really innovative, make it hospitable for the bats and have a really successful bat barn with lots of different species using it,” Andrea Nelson of Utah Nature Conservancy said.

Mention the word bat and you don't always get a positive response. Many people think they're spooky, or have concerns about rabies. But there’s reason to protect the “creepy” mammals.

“These bats, especially in the Great Salt Lake’s Shorelands Preserve area, are helping farmers,” Nelson said. “They eat a lot of agricultural pests, and they also eat other pests that bother humans, mosquitoes, those sorts of things.”

That’s why Utah Nature Conservancy enlisted some help from Architectural Nexus. The firm is hosting a contest among its employees to find whomever can build the best bat habitat on the Great Salt Lake’s Shorelands Preserve.

The plan is to have a design ready by November.

“We’re hoping to have it constructed by March, so that come spring, the bat barn will be there ready for bats to move in,” Nelson said.

There are 18 species of bats living in Utah. The firm has identified eight in the Shorelands Preserve area. Scientists have found that tiny bat boxes don't attract species in the Beehive State, so the firm has to be strategic.

“There are certain requirements that we need to accommodate as far as bats, such as nooks and crannies for the bats to inhabit,” Architect Rich Aravey said. “We also want to make sure that we accommodate a variety of species of bats.”

Members of Utah’s Bat Conservation Cooperative say the new habitat is key to future research.

“That is really exciting for me,” Cooperative Member Cody Wallace said. “And mainly just because bats have had such a really bad image. And I’ve really been impressed the last couple years about how much art and artistic renditions of bats can change people’s minds about them.”