Thursday’s “National Cave Day” didn’t have any effect on Northwest Arkansas’ public caves, which have been closed for several years. Still, show caves offered celebratory discounts for the day and will remain open during the summer for would-be explorers looking for a safer alternative.
“We’ve got half a mile of passageway that you get to see on the cave tour,” said Guy Schiavone, War Eagle Cavern’s general manager. “Inside, there’s some really nice formations, there’s a couple little waterfalls, and best of all, there’s no tight spots in the cave. It’s an easy tour to do, and just about anyone could do it.”
White-nose syndrome (WNS), a bat-exclusive disease caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has killed millions of bats in North America. In some cases, it wiped out entire cave populations, according to the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team. Though the disease has been detected in Arkansas’ caverns, humans aren’t presumed to threaten bats or increase circulation of the fungus, Schiavone said.
“We show no signs of white-nose syndrome or any other syndrome that would affect the bat population,” said Schiavone, whose environment is a “show cave”, one privately operated for businesses purposes and guided tours. “If you’re wanting to see a cave…caves like ours and other show caves across the country are the way to do it.”
As a precautionary measure, public caves were closed throughout the years to preserve the bat population and give them an opportunity to gain immunity, which happened in Europe, Schiavone said. Luckily for Arkansans hoping to traverse the state’s caverns, many show caves are open and provide a risk-free experience.
“We are trying to raise awareness of different caves,” Schiavone said. “It can be a very fun, safe, educational opportunity, especially for caves like us.”
For those thrill seekers who still want to explore wild caves, Schiavone recommended bringing along at least two other people, one of whom should have cave-traversing experience. He said to have three sources of light, such as a headlamp or flashlight, per person, and he suggested telling someone before going to the cavern.
“How can you know what to prepare for if you don’t know what you’re about to do?” Schiavone said. “If you’re going to be caving, prepare yourself, do it safely and that way you can avoid any potential catastrophes.”