COLUMBIA — Wild caves, including the Devil’s Icebox in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, are temporarily closing across Missouri in an attempt to prevent the spread of white nose disease that has been affecting bats.
Judd Slivka, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said the policy will be re-evaluated on July 15, however, it isn’t possible to tell if the caves will be reopened then.
The disease was first found in Missouri in a private cave in Pike County. Since then, all wild caves in Missouri have been closed to prevent people from possibly transferring the fungus.
Slivka said one of the ways that the fungus can travel is through mud. If people who often visit wild caves make contact with an infected cave and later venture into a clean cave, it puts the clean cave at risk to receive the fungus.
The state park system will keep its four major tour caves open, including 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.
Slivka said they are keeping the tour caves open because it is more likely that people visiting these caves are just one-time visitors and will not re-enter other caves for a while.
The Department of Natural Resources has estimated that roughly 400 visitors per year participate in the organized wild cave tours in Devil’s Icebox, which doesn’t include those who visit on their own.
Around 4,800 school children take tours through Connor’s Cave, which shares the same entrance as Devil’s Icebox but is quite a bit smaller.
Although there are many who visit the caves, Slivka said closing the wild caves could greatly help the chances of preventing the fungus from spreading.
“With a disease like white nose, an ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of cure,” he said.