Jan. 30, 2013 — Voices rang out in the dark, the first clue that crickets and bats weren’t alone in the cave.
The tramp of booted feet followed, and soon the tired but excited faces of a troop of Boy Scouts glowed in the light filtering from the cave entrance.
The scouts, along with their leaders and some miscellaneous tourists, were among the first non-official humans to venture through Cascade Cave in several years.
Along with the rest of the caverns in Carter Caves State Resort Park, it had been closed to the public to retard the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has been killing bats and for which science hasn’t yet found a cure.
But it and a select number of other caves in the park were open Saturday and are open again today for the fourth annual Winter Adventure Weekend, the park’s yearly blowout of hibernal sports and pastimes.
It took the place of the Crawlathon, an immensely popular — among cave enthusiasts — weekend of exploring the miles of underground passages in the park. When access to caves was restricted, the Crawlathon was discontinued and park officials created the adventure weekend to take its place.
Limited reopening of the caves made sense this year because experts have developed guidelines to prevent the spread by humans of white-nose syndrome, said park naturalist Coy Ainsley. The disease is spread mostly by the bats themselves, but people can transfer it from one cave to another on their clothes or shoes.
So when the scouts exited the cave, they went straight up the hill to the parking area where a decontamination station was set up. It consisted of a set of stiff brushes mounted at ground level for scraping the bulk of mud from the tops and sides of shoes, an abrasive carpet to clean the soles, and a thick, spongy pad impregnated with a disinfectant agent to kill spores before they spread.