A beautiful bat visits the Friends of Lake View Hill meeting. Photo by FOLVH

By Dan Tortorice
Friends of Lake View Hill Park

In 1930 something great happened at the top of Lake View Hill. Dane County built a state-of-the-art hospital/sanatorium to treat people suffering from tuberculosis, one of the greatest health scourges in human history.

They didn’t have effective antibiotics then, and medical science had yet to prove the near-miraculous power of vitamin D, but they did have common sense and the dedication to help people. They applied a regimen of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, good diet, proper sanitation and a beautiful natural setting. Many patients recovered.

The Friends of Lake View Hill Park see it as part of our mission to honor the cultural legacy

Citizens get a look at Lake View Hill’s new “bat cave.” Photo by Pris Herman

of Lakeview Sanatorium. At our annual meeting Feb. 11, we watched a presentation by Wisconsin DNR bat specialist Jennifer Redell on the current crisis facing our bat populations. Bats play a very important role in our ecosystem. They control pests, spread seeds and pollinate plants. Their actions contribute hundreds of millions of dollars yearly to Wisconsin agriculture.

Bat populations are now severely threatened by a foreign invasive fungus to which they have no developed resistance. Called white-nosed syndrome (WNS), this fungus robs hibernating bats of their energy and causes them to starve to death before winter ends. The DNR found a population loss of over 90 percent in one of the main hibernation caves known in Wisconsin.

After viewing some beautiful bat specimens with Jennifer, we took a tour of the new artificial “bat cave” in Lake View Hill Park. The “cave” is a former utility tunnel that connected the sanatorium with the Dormitory for Help, also called the Nurses’ Dormitory. That building was razed in 2016. The tunnel has a special gate constructed to allow access to bats seeking a place to hibernate. It’s small by cave standards (six-feet wide by 65-yards long) but could be maintained to prevent invasion by dangerous fungi.

The Nurses’ Dormitory is gone now but part of its portico has been preserved to honor those people who risked their own health to help others. The portico is now an overlook with stunning views to the southeast. It will soon have descriptive plaques telling some of the history of the dedicated staff who saved so many lives.

It will be a fitting thing if the tunnel can attract hibernating bats to help save this population of productive mammals. We all know this hill to be an invigorating and enjoyable asset to our beautiful part of Madison. It helped to save a lot of lives many decades ago. Perhaps it can happen again.