By Crystal J. Damron - Journal-Times
Jan. 9, 2013 — Friday, Jan. 25, will be the kickoff of the 4th Annual Winter Adventure Weekend at Carter Caves State Resort Park, also known to Park Manager Chris Perry as “the best kept secret in Eastern Kentucky.”
When plans were released for this year's event, park officials were excited to announce that for the first time since the feared white nose syndrome became a concern, cavers are able to return back underground.
However, Perry wanted to clarify there will be no type of wildlife caving, for the bats sake; yet there will be both guided commercial (handrails and lights) and wild cave tours available. Cavers will be able to visit X and Cascade caves along with others, yet Bat, Salt Petre and Laurel caves are still closed for the winter.
2013 numbers indicate that there are currently 40,000 Indiana bats hibernating in one of three caves this winter on the Carter County park, with approximately 30,000 in Bat Cave alone. Yet numbers are significantly down since 1980 when more than 100,000 Indiana bats were in Bat Cave.
Carter Caves is hibernation for more than half of the Kentucky population of the Indiana bats, and due to the efforts of the staff at Carter Caves the white nose syndrome has not arrived at the park.
Coy Ainsley, interpretative specialist at Carter Caves, indicated even with all the efforts, which include but are not limited to, Lysol stepping pads for the soles of hikers' shoes and asking hikers not to bring in clothing worn in other caves, he believes it will eventually arrive here at Carter Caves since the largest majority of the syndrome is passed from bat to bat, which humans cannot control.
This large number of Indiana bats call Carter Caves home during November to April, and travel as far north as southern Michigan during summer months. Of course this is based on weather: the quicker it gets warmer, the quicker the bats wake up and leave hibernation.
The park and its staff also has made other efforts to give the endangered bats a place to hibernate. By closing winter tours to Salt Petre Cave, the bat count went from 400 to 7,000 in just six years. These animals are very easily disturbed and in closing the cave to winter tours they were able to see this 6,600 increase.
Perry urges local Eastern Kentucky residents to take part in this event, or just come and visit to prepare for next year. In years past more than 90 percent of the participants are from out of the area. He also wants locals to know the park is open to everyone. You do not have to rent a cottage, a room or camp to be able to participate.
Perry wants readers to know it is not a typical Crawlathon, yet you still get to do some “on your belly crawling.” In efforts to keep the white nose syndrome risk low, cavers will be limited to one wild cave trip for this year's event.
Visit www.winteradventureweekend.com or call 1-800-325-0059 to register or if you just have any questions. All participants must register online at this site. The nonrefundable fee for adults (age 13 and older) is $30, and the nonrefundable fee for children ages 6-12 is $20. Some of the trips have additional fees. The event list includes rock climbing, tree climbing, camp fire cooking and survival, just to name a few. Step out and take advantage of the beauty in our back yard.