grottoes repeatedly cleaned the cave, but the cave was abused for so many years that only a gate could prevent vandals from continuing to trash it. Responsible groups can easily obtain a caving permit for the cave by calling the Conservation Department’s East Central Regional Office in Sullivan at (573) 468-3335.
Some cave owners have filled or gated caves because they feared legal liability if someone was injured. However, we know of no successful lawsuit in the United States against a cave owner for the injury or death of a cave visitor. Missouri and many other states protect landowners from liability for injuries related to natural features like caves, unless they are used as commercial attractions.
Cave gates are now built to be as environmentally friendly and as strong as possible, using designs specified by the American Cave Conservation Association and Bat Conservation International.
The gates are typically made of heavy-duty angle iron with spacing that will not hinder the flow of air and water. The bars are spaced about 5 3/4 inches apart, and the vertical posts are placed as far apart as engineering allows to permit bats a wide flyway.
The gate is pinned into the bedrock with one-inch hardened steel rod, and reinforced concrete is sometimes used to prevent vandals from digging under the gate. The bars are reinforced with angle iron stiffeners welded inside. The lock is protected in an enclosed steel box on the inside of the gate to prevent vandals from easily attacking it with tools.
It is illegal in Missouri to tamper with any cave gate or lock. Public agencies pursue and prosecute those who illegally enter protected caves. One must obtain permission to enter private caves, and also many public caves.
Different styles of cave gates are used in different types of entrances. Maternity colonies of gray bats will not tolerate a full gate across the cave entrance. In maternity caves with a large entrance, we sometimes build a "half gate" that has an open flyway above it. A large overhang is built at the top to prevent intruders from climbing over the gate. Some of these caves are available for caving by permit during limited periods between the winter and summer bat seasons.
Managing caves for endangered bat species, such as the Indiana and the gray bat, we have to take into account seasonal bat use of particular caves. Gray bats use certain caves in the winter and different caves in the summer, while Indiana bats use certain chilly caves only in the fall and winter. They stay in forests during the summer.
Some bat caves don’t need gating, and some cave entrances can’t be gated because of their size and shape.
Good cave management also takes into account the cave’s place in the natural setting. Food, air and water inputs are not altered. During cave cleanups, we remove old woodpiles slowly over time - even if they have been placed there recently - because they may be providing food and shelter for secretive cave creatures. However, hard trash, such as cans, bottles and plastics, are removed quickly.
Pristine caves are sometimes protected by secrecy, agreements or gating. For management purposes, public agencies in Missouri inventory and classify their caves into three categories: open, restricted or closed. Many caves remain open to the public, but only if visitors use proper caving gear and methods and respect the caves.
Caves are not renewable resources, and restoring caves after they have been damaged is not a good solution. The only recourse to vandalism and damaging overuse of caves is conservation through education and protection before damage is done.
Learning about restoring caves
- The Conservation Department and some Missouri universities offer classes in cave science and ecology.
- Public school teachers can earn credits at summer cave classes at the Jerry Presley Conservation Education Center in Shannon County.
- William Elliott, the Conservation Department's cave biologist is available or public lectures on caves and cave life.
- The Missouri Caves and Karst Conservancy and other organizations assist cave owners in conserving and protecting their caves.