Bracken Cave in Comal County is the summer home to twenty million Mexican free-tailed bats, one of the highest known density of mammals on the planet. Bat Conservation International hoped that an innovative interpretive center would be able to educate curious visitors while preserving the bats’ fragile habitat. Overland responded with a design for the interpretive center that was sensitive to the environment while taking visitors on a journey into the life of the bat.
“They’re really adorable. How do you explain them in a way that changes people’s fundamental reaction?” said Principal in Charge Bob Shemwell. Our emotional reaction to eliminate the things we fear, as well as the constant threat of habitat destruction, could have a costly chain reaction. In addition to their inherent value as a living species, bats are our best air defense system against destructive insects. They save the agricultural industry billions of dollars annually. An interactive and immersive experience could have the power to elevate the bats from beasts we fear to creatures we love.
Predictable timetables for the Bat Flight means that sizable crowd arrives all at once, potentially overloading narrow spaces or entrances. To ease the point loads and reduce noise and light pollution, Overland selected a remote site for the parking lot to allow the crowd to diffuse on the approach.
The entrance weaves down into a dim, subterranean environment, evoking the mystery and form of a bat cave. Inside the “cave” visitors can enjoy a simulation of the experience everyone covets: standing amid the vortex of bats as they take to the evening sky. The BatMax theater surrounds viewers with the sights and sounds one might experience at the mouth of the cave, but without the wafting ammonia or threat of collision. The actual viewing of the Bat Flight takes place on strategically placed viewing platforms along the perimeter of the regular cone the bats will follow. The platforms sit beneath the canopy, so as not to disturb the bats, but are elevated enough to create a panoramic view of the flight.
Because the cave sits over a segment of the Trinity Aquifer and is adjacent to the Edwards Aquifer, water conservation was essential. Graywater retrieval, rain harvest, and onsite biological wastewater treatment work behind the scenes to further the client’s mission of conservation.
While the interpretive center was never completed, the public awareness created by the project resulted in advantageous alliances forged between public utilities organizations and Bat Conservation International, directly leading to the preservation of much of the area surrounding Bracken Cave. It now sits on 1,458 acres of protected land in the Texas Hill Country, and the home of 20 million creatures has been made safe once more.