March 27, 2013 —
Cave exploring appears to provide all three components of adventure tourism – physical activity, cultural exchange and engagement with nature.
By allowing participants to step outside of their personal comfort zone, adventure tourism attractions create excitement with activities that require significant effort and involve some degree of risk, real or perceived.
Over the ensuing 25 years, rock climbing, zip lining, mountain biking, horseback trail riding, and paddle sports (canoeing, kayaking) also emerged, some on an experimental basis, as part of the “mix” of adventures at Carter Caves and the adjoining Tygart State Forest.
Sadly, the “Crawlathon” came to an abrupt end in 2009 when Carter Caves joined the state and national effort to protect endangered bats from the killer disease known as “white nose syndrome”.
White nose syndrome (WNS) was first identified in upstate New York in 2007 but has since spread to 25 states, including Kentucky.
The disease has killed millions of bats in the U.S. and Canada and has no known cure or prevention.
Despite stringent restrictions on cave access and a decontamination protocol for visitors, the deadly fungus was found last month in two of the 20 known caves at Carter Caves.
WNS does not affect humans, livestock or pet animals. It kills only hibernating bats and has obliterated 70 to 100 percent of the bat population in infected caves throughout the Northeast.
“We did all we could to keep it away but the bats themselves apparently brought it into our caves,” said Coy Ainsley, park naturalist, with a hint of sadness in his voice.
If the disease spreads here as it has in other hibernation caves and abandoned mines, bat ecologists fear it could cause the near extinction of the Indiana bat.
Ainsley said Carter Caves once had a winter population of about 100,000 bats but that figure has been reduced over the years to around 30,000 and no doubt will shrink dramatically as WNS spreads.