Devil’s Den State Park Closes Caves

By Jill M. Rohrbach, Ark. Dept. of Parks and Tourism

First posted on 05-27-2009

Emergency Closures Are Necessary As Federal and State Natural Resource Agencies Work To Slow the Spread of White Nose Syndrome in Bats

Many outdoor enthusiasts visit Devil’s Den State Park with the express purpose of exploring one or more of its many caves and crevices. Most of the park’s caves are crevices associated with a unique sandstone crevice area, the largest such area in the U.S. Two of the park’s lesser-known caves, Farmer’s Cave and Big Ear Cave, are now closed to the public effective today, according to Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts. These emergency closures are necessary in an effort to protect these two caves from the possibility of contamination from the White Nose Syndrome, a fungus killing bats in the eastern U.S. All other caves in Devil’s Den remain open to cavers.

Currently, federal and state natural resource agencies are closing many caves to the public in an effort to slow the threat of this fungus that forces bats to wake up too early from their winter hibernation. Once awakened, the bats need food. Because their awakening is happening too early in season before insects and fruits are available to eat, the bats slowly die of starvation.

White Nose Syndrome was discovered in the northeastern United States three years ago and has spread as far south as Virginia. The fungus has killed as many as one million bats in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. State cave experts in the U.S. said the white-nose fungus could be in Arkansas within two years.

It is so named because infected bats usually exhibit a white fungus on their muzzle and/or on their wings and feet. Some experts think the fungus may just be a result of an unknown virus that is the culprit. At this time only bats that hibernate in caves have been affected by the disease. Bat species in caves infected with the fungus suffer a 95 to 100 percent mortality rate.

The disease is transmitted bat to bat. It is believed that climbers moving their gear from cave to cave and state to state are spreading spores from the fungus.

According to Butts, the only caves with bats in Arkansas’s state park system that serious climbers likely would use are Big Ear and Farmer’s caves in Devil’s Den State Park. He noted that Big Ear Cave was already closed to the public because it is the home of the endangered Ozark Big-eared Bat. The Tri-colored Bat, formerly called the Eastern Pipistrelle Bat, has also been observed in this cave. Bat species observed in Farmer’s Cave include the Tri-colored Bat and rarely the Ozark Big-eared Bat.

Caves located in other Arkansas state parks either don’t have bats or aren’t deep enough to warrant restricting access by the public.

The most popular caves at Devil’s Den State Park are the Devil’s Den Cave and the Devils Icebox. Both of these will remain open because they aren’t considered challenging enough to attract serious climbers from other states. Butts noted that the average park visitor climbing through popular caves or some of the shallower ones around Arkansas isn’t likely to go from state to state and cave to cave, which would spread spores from the fungus. However, Farmers Cave, which attracts up to 800 people a year, snakes through its quarter-mile depth and is rugged enough to tempt climbers from other areas, he said.

Devil’s Den State Park is located in Lee Creek Valley south of Fayetteville. It is one of Arkansas’s 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

For further information, contact: Monte Fuller, park superintendent, Devils Den State Parks, 11333 West Arkansas Highway 74, West Fork, AR; phone: 479-761-3325;

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