News Release 096

Spring Wild Cave Tours cancelled at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Volume 39-096 (For Immediate Release)
For more information: 573-751-1010

JEFFERSON CITY, MO., APRIL 12, 2011 – The need to protect endangered bats has led to the cancellation of the Spring Wild Cave Tours through Devil’s Icebox Cave in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia.

Devil's Icebox Cave is one of the most diverse and biologically significant caves in Missouri, housing large numbers and species of bats and other cave organisms. It has been an important maternity site for endangered gray bats and is a hibernaculum for endangered Indiana bats. Traditionally, the cave has been closed to recreational use during much of the year to protect the bats with guided tours allowed during certain times in the spring and fall when it is believed cavers would not disturb the bats.

Recent research by park staff indicate that gray bat numbers are declining and it is believed that disturbances from spring tours may be contributing to the decline. This concern is coupled with the recent threat of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that kills bats but is harmless to people. Scientists believe that restricting public access to caves will reduce the risk of any people-born transmission of the fungus from cave to cave as well as avoid disturbing bats.

"Wild cave tours through Devil’s Icebox provide opportunities for cave interpretation and education but our first priority is to protect the resource. If we don’t protect the resource, then there will be nothing to interpret," said Bill Bryan, Missouri Department of Natural Resources' State Parks director. "We will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions based on the best scientific evidence available." These decisions will include whether the cave tours will be held in the fall.

The park will continue to provide tours of Connor's Cave and to provide bat emergence programs on summer evenings. Connor's Cave tours are available to groups that call and make arrangements, and to the public through programs held on weekends during June, July and August.

The decision about the wild cave tours through Devil's Icebox Cave is consistent with the state park system's policy for access to caves and the protection of bat resources. For 2011, the state park system's major tour caves will be open to the public and screening measures for visitors will remain in place. The major tour caves include Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park; Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park; and Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Many other caves that are commonly used by bats will remain temporarily closed. Exceptions will be made for shorter caves, those that do not have bats, and those caves that have exceptional educational value for schools. In addition, most if not all commercial cave tour operations remain open for business across the state. For more information on other cave tour opportunities, go to mocaves.com.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is located five miles south of Columbia on Highway 163. For more information about the park, go to mostateparks.com or call 573-449-7402. For information on Missouri state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com.

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