By JEANNE STARMACK
Rodgers Park, also known as The Hole, was deserted Friday morning except for an Ellport, Pa., borough worker and a man walking his dog.
There may have been some Indiana bats there, too, but no one really knows that for sure.
Ellport Mayor Joe Cisco frowned as he noticed the man and his schnauzer walking closer, around the perimeter of the park. When the man got close enough, Cisco approached him.
“Sir, the park is closed,” he said.
After a two- or three-minute muted conversation, the man was made to understand: The Hole is closed for the summer. No picnics. No birthday parties. No family reunions. No dog-walking.
Those elusive little Indiana bats and 14 large, dying trees are the reason why.
When the borough wanted to cut the trees down to avoid the liability of someone getting hurt by a falling tree or by a branch plummeting toward the earth, it was told it could not, Cisco said. With the help of the Lawrence County Conservation District, it discovered that the rare Indiana bat may — or may not — be nesting in the trees, he said. To cut down the trees would violate state and federal regulations that protect the bats, he said.
Rather than spending $10,000 to have someone “come down and sit in a chair all night” to see if the bats are there, he said, the borough decided to close the park.
“From April 1 to Nov. 15, that’s when they have their young,” said Cisco, who maybe knows more about Indiana bats now than he ever thought he would.
“Nov. 15, they pack all their bags and go to caves,” he continued, revealing a possible need to read up on the subject a little more.
“On the 16th of November, we can cut the trees down,” he said, which is really all he needs to know. The bats will have migrated out of the area to spend the winter in caves, and the park will reopen next year as usual after the trees are gone.
Meanwhile, the community of 2,000 has to find other places to have its events.
The Boy Scouts, Wur-El-Wayne baseball league, the Lions Club, Sons of Italy and the Hungarian Club all use The Hole during the summer, he said, adding that those groups have been kind about having to find another spot.
Some people did get upset, he said, adding that the borough has had to refund eight or nine shelter-reservation fees of $100 each. Ellport is offering the use of its community center instead, but no one has jumped on that.
“It wasn’t the same,” said resident Maryjo Brown, who had to find another spot for her family’s annual reunion. This year, it’s been relocated to Franklin Park on state Route 288.
Brown said her family loves having the reunion at The Hole, and she’s glad the park will be reopening.
“It’s a great little place,” she said.