The site of the former Marblehead Lime Company in southern Hannibal could soon become the newest addition to the city's expansive park system.

The site of the former Marblehead Lime Company in southern Hannibal could soon become the newest addition to the city’s expansive park system.

During a City Hall briefing Friday, Andy Dorian, director of the Parks & Recreation Department called the creation of the 185-acre wildlife preserve, which will be called the Sodalis Nature Preserve, a “once-in-a-generation park.”

“We’ve been blessed with Riverview (Park) and this is going to be comparable,” he said. “Very few communities have something like this, if any. It’s going to be an amazing recreational/educational asset to the community.”

The project has come about because the mines have become the wintertime home of a large congregation of endangered Indiana bats.

“This is the largest known site for Indiana bats in the world, right here in Hannibal,” said Shauna Marquardt of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s significant to the Fish & Wildlife Service, since it’s our mission to conserve and recover endangered species. We truly could not recover the Indiana bat and protect it over the long term without permanent protection of this site.”

“We found out this particular site has 30 percent of the world’s population of one individual bat. It’s absolutely critical for that bat’s survival at this particular site,” said Clint Miller of The Conservation Fund (TCF), a national nonprofit organization, who has been working on the preserve project for over a year.

After identifying the significance of the former mine site, TCF “approached the landowner and negotiated purchase of the property,” according to Miller.

The property is being purchased from a group identified only as LCM Properties. While not revealing the negotiated price for the property, Miller said in excess of $2 million has been set aside for the Hannibal project out of a $22 million pool of money from the Flanagan South Pipeline Mitigation fund.

Miller stressed the money the city is receiving is not a loan.

“There is no requirement for the city to pay anything back,” he said. “This is a project that is not costing in an immediate sense the city any money. It’s a gift from The Conservation Fund.”

Money has already been spent to prepare the site. Specially-constructed gates have been built and set in place at each of the 33 mine entrances “that allow the bats to come in and out of the mine, but keep people out, keep people safe,” said Miller, adding that between $400,000 and $500,000 has been set aside with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation for future repair or replacement of the bat gates.

A number of old buildings, dating back to when the mines were being operated, have been torn down.

“We looked at options trying to stabilize those and have those available for use by the city, but there really was no option. They had to come down,” said Miller.

Also completed at the site has been some road work.

“We actually built a road into the site that was necessary to bring the heavy equipment in. That road will become part of the new trail system, hopefully extending the Bear Creek Trail. We left that road in pretty much condition to pave,” said Miller.

A portion of the trail system will be paved for use by walkers and bikers.

“We really want to pave it because it gets more people on the property. It will get more people recreating and more people getting to learn about the bats, which is really important,” said Dorian, adding that the “paved trail system is just a fraction of the trail system throughout the park,” explaining that decades of ATVs running through the site has created numerous trails.

Dorian says some preliminary work on a parking area could begin before the end of the year.

The City Council will be asked to accept the property at its Tuesday, Dec. 15, meeting. Included in the agreement will be a conservation easement that will assure the property will always remain a park and the mine gates in place to protect the bats.

A formal dedication date has been set for April 17, 2016, which is National Bat Appreciation Day.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com