The countdown to Bat Fest is on

The bats are back—and just in time for Halloween.

The Lubee Bat Conservancy will host the 17th Annual Florida Bat Fest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at its 40-acre facility in Gainesville.

This year’s fest is themed “Welcome Back” after the pandemic canceled the event last year.

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“We pull out all the stops for it because we really want to give back to the community,” Brian Pope, director of the conservancy, said in a radio interview with Larry Wilson on 106.9 I Am County. “We’ve been in Gainesville and really running for 32 years.”

The whole bat fest will take place outdoors and include a costume contest and more than 60 vendors selling food, accessories, art along with groups from Santa Fe College’s Teaching Zoo, LifeSouth Community Blood Center and Gainesville Area Bee Club.

Jig to a Milestone will perform live music, and local breweries from Lake City to Ocala will provide unlimited sampling of drafts in the beer garden.

Kids can stay active in a zone just for them with bouncy houses, crafts and activities, and nature play areas for building forts and digging for items. 

And we can’t forget the bats. You can view the world’s largest species of bats with 6-foot wingspans along with other species. 

The fest will also serve as a welcome party for five new bat pups born this year. 

“Outside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where we have our large bats on loan, people can’t see these animals anywhere else,” Pope said.

Another new feature is the conservancy’s education center built on the site of the Bat Observation Building. The inner offices and animal housing were deconstructed to leave an open-air center for learning about the conservancy, bats and bat houses.

“It’s the largest project we’ve done in years,” Pope said. 

Saturday’s fest will also serve as an open house for the community to engage with the new center.

Tickets for the event are $5 for children (5-12 years old) and $8 for everyone age 13 and above. The beer garden will cost $25 online or $28 at the gate for unlimited sampling and access to the festival. 

The fest will also include a silent auction for Florida Zoo tickets and gift certificates for local restaurants and shops.

The Lubee Bat Conservancy is a non-profit focused on saving bats through research and community education. It was started in 1989 by Luis Bacardi as a research facility for all endangered animals before narrowing down to bats.

Since then, the non-profit has reached more than 170,000 through educational programs and hosts around 40 schools a year. 

You can find more about the conservancy’s history online.

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