News Release 097

Missouri state park major tour caves open to visitors in 2011

Volume 39-097 (For Immediate Release)
For more information: 573-751-1010

JEFFERSON CITY, MO., APRIL 12, 2011 -- Visitors to Missouri state parks this summer will have the opportunity to tour the system's four major tour caves. Many other caves that are commonly used by bats will remain temporarily closed to reduce the risk of spreading white-nose syndrome, a fungus that affects bats but not humans.

White-nose syndrome is a fungus that has devastated bat populations throughout the northeastern United States and is spreading west. Bats showing evidence of the fungus were found in 2010 in two caves in Missouri. Restricting public access to certain caves is believed to help reduce the risk of any people-born transmission of the fungus from cave to cave.

"We have been monitoring this situation closely and have made decisions based on what we believe protects our resources while still allowing visitors some form of access to the unique experience you can only find in caves," said Bill Bryan, Missouri Department of Natural Resources' State Parks director.

The four tour caves that will be open are Onondaga Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park (open for local school groups and the general public April 15); Cathedral Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park (open to local school groups on April 15 and May 15 to the general public); Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park (open to local school groups on April 16 and May 15 to the general public); and Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park (open to local school groups on April 16 and May 15 to the general public). To help prevent the risk of human transmission of the fungus from cave to cave, screening measures will remain in place. Visitors who tour the caves are asked to not wear the same clothing, footwear, accessories or equipment that has been in any other cave.

In 2010, most of the park system's wild caves used by bats were closed except for specific exceptions like educational tours and low-risk groups in specified wild caves. While this policy remains in effect, the number of caves that may be accessed for educational and scientific purposes in 2011 has increased.

"This year, we have more clearly identified caves that we believe can be used for certain purposes, especially school groups and other educational efforts. This allows us to provide access to more caves while still protecting the resources," said Bryan. The accessible caves include shorter caves, those that do not have bats, and those caves that have exceptional educational value for schools.

To find out which caves can be accessed, contact the individual park where you would like to visit a cave. For more information about cave tours, visit mostateparks.com/activity/cave-tours.

State park staff will continue to work with other state and federal resource agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation, on a management plan to address white-nose syndrome in Missouri state park caves.

Missouri has more than 6,300 caves. Bryan emphasized the agency policy concerning the 183 caves in 18 state parks and historic sites does not apply to other caves in Missouri. Most if not all commercial cave tour operations remain open for business. For information on privately owned caves or those operated by other agencies in Missouri, contact the agency or private business or landowner that owns the cave. Information on other caves can be found at mocaves.com.

For information on Missouri state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com.

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