A batch of new lights will illuminate the historic Marcusen Park baseball diamond this spring, the first in a series of hoped-for improvements to the 70-year-old ball field.

The City Council and Park Board both recently approved the plan, which calls for removing about 52 aging metal-halide lights and replacing them with 48 LED fixtures before the season-opening game in May. The switch should cut in half the park's $5,000 electrical bill for field lighting, said Marcusen Park Baseball Association board member Joe Serratore. The field's eight light poles will remain.

The project's $177,000 cost will be covered by a $121,000 grant from the Hormel Foundation and a $56,000 loan from the city. Serratore said the association plans to launch a $200,000 capital campaign this summer to repay the loan and fund a slate of upgrades, including new plumbing, new batting cages, a pavilion and new seating.

The park, built in 1947, was nearly torn down in 2004, but fans organized the local park baseball association to rally support for the facility.

Matt McKinney


White-nose fungus has decimated bat colony

A fungus that threatens bat colonies nationwide has decimated the Soudan Mine colony, according to a new survey from the Department of Natural Resources.

The white-nose fungus is being blamed for a 73 percent decrease in the size of the colony, from 5,710 in 2013 to 1,553 in the most recent count. The fungus — named for the white fuzz that appears on the noses of infected bats — was first detected at the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park in 2013. The fungus has also been found in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, about 40 miles south of Rochester.

Bats can eat half their body weight in insects each night, and play an important role in controlling agricultural pests, and in pollinating many crops and plants.

DNR bat expert Gerda Nordquist said the fungus has wiped out 95 to 98 percent of infected bat colonies in other states. It's considered difficult to stop once it infects a hibernating bat colony. The fungus was first reported in North America in 2007.

Matt McKinney


White pelicans are flying north two weeks early

Flocks of American white pelicans have begun arriving in Minnesota about two weeks early, the Department of Natural Resources reported. The pelican, a birdwatcher's delight with its 9-foot wingspan and distinctive pouch-like throat, nests on just seven lakes statewide.

The pelican was nearly wiped out in Minnesota, with no reports of nesting pairs from 1878 to 1968. Today the state counts some 22,000 pairs of pelicans, according to the DNR.

DNR wildlife specialist Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer advised bird-watchers to keep their distance from pelicans, which are easily spooked and could abandon their nests.

Matt McKinney