HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two popular caves within the Forbes State Forest, Coon Cave in Westmoreland County and Barton Cave in Fayette County, will soon be reopened to the public for recreational caving, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently announced.
A third cave, Lemon Hole in Westmoreland County, will remain closed. Beginning in the summer of 2006, the caves were gated from the beginning of October until the end of May due to concerns about a bat disease known as White-Nose Syndrome.
The caves remained closed during the last two seasons.
“As a precaution and because little was known about WNS at the time, the gates on the caves in the Forbes State Forest were kept closed to possibly prevent the spread of WNS and to allow for research and monitoring,” said Bureau of Forestry Director Daniel Devlin. “Because WNS was confirmed in both Barton and Coon caves earlier this year, there is no longer reason to keep them closed. The Lemon Hole Cave was not monitored this year and will remain closed in 2011.”
Coon Cave, southeast of Blairsville, is now open, Devlin said, but Barton Cave experienced a collapse of one of its chambers and will require further geologic assessment by members of the Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy.
Date forthcoming. Based on the results of the assessment, the opening of Barton Cave, near Uniontown, Fayette County, will be announced at a later date. The white substance on bats with WNS has been identified as a fungus that irritates the skin of bats during hibernation, causing them to awaken and prematurely emerge.
Affected bats flew out of caves during the cold winter months to search for food and later froze to death or died in large numbers from starvation and dehydration.
WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans but it can be spread by people to bats in other caves because the fungus can remain on clothes and caving gear.
For this reason, it is important that anyone who visits Barton or Coon Caves takes time to properly decontaminate their clothing and caving gear using protocols developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
These tips are found online at: http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome/cavers.html. The three caves within the Forbes State Forest serve as the winter home for bat species including the big brown, little brown and Eastern pipistrelle.
Hibernating numbers have been estimated at more than 1,000 at Lemon Hole and Coon caves, and several hundred at the Barton site. Known and valued for their enormous appetite for mosquitoes and other flying insect pests, bats have benefited from past visitation controls at other major hibernating sites in state parks, state game lands, and privately owned mines, buildings and other properties.
For more information, contact DCNR Wildlife Biologist Aura Stauffer, 717-579-0297, Forbes State Forest District Forester Ed Callahan, 724 238-1200, or the Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy’s Kim Metzger, 724 433-0854.
For details on Pennsylvania’s bats, as well as white-nose syndrome, visit www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on the bat photograph.