PHOTOS: Rookery Bay inaugural bash ‘bats’ 1,000

Long enamored of their plasticine mascot who presides over the reserve’s Environmental Learning Center, the Friends of Rookery Bay (FORB), Rookery staff and volunteers jumped at the challenge last fall of creating a fundraiser in support of youth science education, research activities and community outreach programs at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve located just off Collier Boulevard on the approach to Marco Island.

Their enthusiasm turned out to be the Batfish Bash for the Bay.

On March 27, 160 arriving attendees at the inaugural event were waved into the reserve entrance by none other than Melanie the Manatee. The polka-dot batfish, decked out in a baseball cap and turtle-figured cravat, drew admirers who mingled while enjoying welcoming Batfish Brew, which tasted amazingly like dark rum cocktails, and passed hors d’oeuvres. Event chairwoman Sharda Spahr and her committee as well as board President Bruce Robertson and Rookery Bay Reserve director Gary Lytton circulated all evening with partygoers, encouraging them to bid early, often and right up to the silent-auction closing time. Tempting displays, many expedition-oriented, circled the center’s second floor that led out to the recently opened footbridge spanning the mangroves. The al fresco stroll it invited was timed to coincide with the sun setting and the moon rising.

A shocking-pink-and-orange color scheme included everything from cocktail napkins to schedule and menu posters, tablecloths and even apparel on a few colorful cognoscenti.

Caterer Russell’s Clambakes came up with five meal stations featuring Old Florida fare plus Mango Crisp and strawberry shortcake desserts. Dishes ranged from Bertha Lowdermilk’s Wild Boar served with griddle-fried grits to Chokoloskee chicken, crayfish and Arthur Stewart’s swamp cabbage.

Lighting was mainly LED, as designed by Artistic Science. A huge artificial moon tethered over the dining area that was described as a “green light district” was in sync with the annual Earth Hour of 8:30 p.m. observed by more than 37 countries around the globe that evening.

Lively musical entertainment was provided by the Raiford Starke Band; J. Roberts; surprise guest Stan Gober of “Dancin’ the Buzzard Lope” fame; and old-timer Bill Beach, who had specially composed words and music and performed a Batfish Bash Boogie. Nearly everyone — many were area “originals” related to pioneer families — took to the dance floor. The evening star was Amelia Horadam, education and learning center manager, who donned a larger-than-lifesize Batfish hat and led the group in dancing the Batfish Boogie and joining in on the chorus.

A comment from Naples native Albie Varoski said it all: “Take it from one who knows, I think this is the best event we’ve attended ever!”

Including receipts from ticket sales at $150 per person, net proceeds exceeded $20,000 according to Robin DeMattia, marketing and development manager.

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