MOUNT VERNON, Iowa - State parks exist to help bring people closer to nature. But nature is definitely disrupting plans for weddings and other events at Palisades-Kepler State Park near Mt. Vernon.
An infestation of brown bats inside the park's lodge has forced the cancellation of all events planned there for the rest of the year. That's 40 to 50 weddings, receptions and other group events. And those who had reservations are learning they can't use the park property they rented because it's not safe or sanitary.
Barbara Perkinson said he granddaughter, who lives in Kansas City, had reserved the Palisades-Kepler lodge for both Friday, July 26th and Saturday the 27th for a rehearsal, outdoor wedding and reception. But a sudden call this week from the Department of Natural Resources informed the family the use of the lodge was off due to a bat infestation.
Perkinson went to the lodge Friday in the company of the seasonal worker who cleans the facility to look at the problem first hand. She saw bat droppings throughout in the insideincluding the countertops in the kitchen and seating areas. She also the bodies of four or five baby bats. Cleaning workers say it's impossible to keep the facility cleaning because the bats can mess it up literally within minutes.
"Obviously, it's a situation that's unhealthy for people. We need our bats but we don't need them in the kitchen," Perkinson said.
Park workers said a few bats occasionally get inside park buildings. But they're usually able to seal the bats off from public parts of a building or clear them out safely. But this group of bats, that just gave birth to their young, have infested the lodge in such numbers it's impossible to clean up and use the facilities.
Kevin Baskins, a DNR spokesperson in Des Moines, said this is the second bat infestation that has closed an Iowa park facility this year. A similar lodge building at Dolliver Park near Ft. Dodge also had to close due to bats inside the building. Baskins said the migratory bats will leave when the weather turns colder this fall. But until that happens, and crews can thoroughly sanitize the facilities, the lodges will stay closed to all users.
"It's one of those things, you know, state parks are state parks for a reason. They are close to nature when you have those sorts of circumstances you have to figure there will be times when nature interferes with our plans," Baskins said.
Baskins added that park workers know the lodge buildings, constructed in the 1930's, have openings that wildlife can use to get inside. Crews have made an effort to seal openings including recent work at the Palisades Kepler lodge. But bats, as tiny mammals, can squeeze through the smallest openings.
Baskins said those who had rented the lodge can still use the grounds and space would be made available for a tent and power provided.
But Perkinson said she isn't sure that would work with a wedding party of about 100 people, catered food and dancing. The family is frantically searching for a wedding site on just two weeks' notice.