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Wyandotte Cave on track for summer re-opening

April 13, 2016
Wyandotte Cave — both Big and Little — will re-open with a July 9 ceremony following the completion of site renovations.

Wyandotte Cave, closed since 2009, is expected to re-open for tours on July 9. Photo By Taylor Ferguson
"What we hope to do on July 9 is re-open the caves with the two-hour tour being available in the big Wyandotte Cave and the short tour in the little Wyandotte Cave," Bob Sawtelle, property manager of O'Bannon Woods State Park, said.

According to Ginger Murphy, deputy director for stewardship for Indiana State Parks, who updated the public March 17 on the Let's Work Together to Re-Open Wyandotte Cave Facebook Page, the process of re-opening both Big and Little Wyandotte for tours will be a gradual one.

"A very important concern is the conservation of the Indiana bat and the protection of Big Wyandotte as a significant hibernaculum for that species," she said. "That limits the time that we will be in Big Wyandotte to evaluate and work on lighting and other equipment. We have begun the detailed planning for lighting needs in Little Wyandotte, and will be doing the same in Big Wyandotte later this spring."

After touring Big Wyandotte last year, Indiana State Parks staff noted work to be done on the cave's lighting and emergency phone system, along with site work outside the caves.

"But it is not completely falling apart," Murphy said. "Our current plan is to open on Saturday, July 9, this summer, with regular tours in Little Wyandotte, limited tours in Big Wyandotte based on progress on lighting and other work, and occasional wild cave tours for expert cavers with their own equipment."

Sawtelle said both Little and Big Wyandotte needed the lighting and the wiring upgraded.

"There may be some stair and tread way work done in Big Wyandotte Cave, but we don't anticipate any of that to conflict with re-opening the cave for the short season in 2016," he said.

As for the building, Sawtelle said the lobby will be demolished and removed, which is anticipated to be done before the July 9 ceremony.

"That's our hopes. What we'll do this year is, we'll manage with some temporary structures that'll house our staff and our administrative building and we'll have some storage there to meet the needs for our Friday, Saturday and Sunday tours," he said. "We anticipate that, especially the big cave, we're going to be providing spelunking helmets and headlamps."

District 74 State Rep. Lloyd Arnold posted on the Facebook page in February after meeting with Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs Director Dan Bortner that he anticipates a new building in the "next phase, hopefully summer of 2017."

On March 15, the Indiana Natural Resources Commission approved tour pricing for Little Wyandotte and Big Wyandotte. The standard fee for a one-hour walking tour will be $4 for children ages 6 through 11 and $8 for adults (12 or older). Fees will increase with longer tours.

Murphy said a tour schedule is not finalized at this point, although tours will only be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for this season, which will run from July 9 through Labor Day weekend.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources "will manage the cave operations through O'Bannon Woods State Park, and tours will be led by DNR staff," she said. "When we are able to get in and complete a detailed assessment of Big Wyandotte, we will provide that information publicly through DNRNews."

Both caves have been closed since 2009, along with other caves in Indiana, in part because of white-nose syndrome, a condition named for a distinctive fungal growth around the muzzles and on the wings of hibernating bats, carried into the caves on visitors shoes that was killing endangered bats in the state.

To combat the disease, Murphy said tours will now include use of decontamination procedures for WNS.

"Our partners in the IDNR Division of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are involved in our work and are advising us, as well," she said.

"We're really excited about re-opening," Sawtelle said.

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