Celebrating our Volunteers in Bat Country

By Will Chen, Marketing Intern

When people speak of the amazing outdoor opportunities in the Pacific Northwest, they may be thinking of luscious evergreen forests, snow-capped mountains or rushing rivers. A recent weekend, however, treated dedicated volunteers to a beauty unlike any of these: a desert landscape consisting of low-lying sagebrush and towering, angular cliffs of basalt.

A view of Moses Coulee area. Photo © Hannah Letinich / TNC

This place is Moses Coulee. Formed by gigantic floods from the last ice age, Moses Coulee was the backdrop for a celebration of our hard-working volunteers, with a night of bat-watching as the centerpiece. Volunteers came from across the state, including Arlington, Cle Elum, Tacoma and Seattle. At Whisper Lake lodge, centrally located in Moses Coulee, land manager Corinna Hanson informed the volunteers of the area’s history

As evening approached, the group moved to Dutch Henry Falls and was joined by two bat experts, Michelle Noe from Bats Northwest and Rochelle Kelly, a University of Washington PhD student. Did you know that despite their colloquial name of “flying mice," bats are much closer relatives to the likes of cows and lions than rodents?

A pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) flying at night near Sulphur Springs, high-desert habitat, Washington.  Photo by Michael Durham.

Dusk soon came, and so did the bats, deftly diving for their dinner (or rather breakfast — waking from their nocturnal slumber). Everyone quieted to observe the animals’ acrobatics and bask in the tranquility. Volunteer Brandon Bills marveled at the isolation and serenity: “You couldn’t see any roads, you’re next to the sheer face of this cliff, surrounded by sage brush as stars wink into view one at a time. Before you know it, the sky becomes vibrant and the Milky Way appears. Nothing makes me feel as small as staring up at that moment.”

Silhouetted against the night sky. Photo © Hannah Letinich / TNC

Throughout the rest of the night, everyone was abuzz with wonder. Erik Alarcon, a volunteer who has visited Moses Coulee multiple times, explained why he returns again and again: “With the hustle and bustle in the city, it’s easy to forget there’s so much to be thankful for … the experience (is) enchanting and peaceful. You feel so rejuvenated and energized.”

Ellenda Wulfestieg smells sagebrush at Moses Coulee during the volunteer event. Photo © Hannah Letinich / TNC

Parting ways was met with a bittersweet mix of emotions. As volunteer Ellenda Wulfestieg put it, “It wasn’t nearly long enough, we should spend a week here in this beautiful place!”

It would be safe to say that she spoke for everyone there.

Our success at The Nature Conservancy in Washington would be nearly impossible without our volunteers. They give up their free time to plant trees, pull invasive weeds, conduct animal surveys, document our work through photos, coordinate other volunteers and much more.

Beyond their contributions, they inspire through their insatiable curiosity, compassion for the environment and infectious enthusiasm.

Nature Conservancy in Washington volunteers and staff during the volunteer appreciation event at Moses Coulee. Photo © Hannah Letinich / TNC