Bat disease closes Iowa caves - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Bat disease closes Iowa caves

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JACKSON COUNTY (KWWL) -- Starting Monday, May 3, three of Iowa's state caves are closing because of a disease killing bats in the Midwest. The state Department of Natural Resources is shutting down caves in Maquoketa, Burlington, and Jones County.

The disease killing entire bat populations in some U.S. caves is called white-nose syndrome, a fungus zoologists say causes bats to fly too often and lose too much weight (eventually killing them).

"We're closing it to protect our bats. We don't know if we have it. We're pretty sure we don't have the white nose syndrome here at Maquoketa caves, but we don't want our bats to get it. It's got a high mortality rate during hibernation," Maquoketa Caves State Park Ranger Scott Dykstra said.

Officials say the disease does not affect or hurt humans, but humans can spread it from cave to cave on their shoes or clothes. In fact, some private cave owners in other states are requiring people to borrow or rent gear at that particular cave to prevent spreading the infection with their own gear.

On Sunday, some visitors took their last chance, at least for now, to go inside the caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park. Dykstra says more than 200,000 people visit the park each year, and he hopes people will continue to visit the other portions of the park.

"I know the caves are the main attraction for the park, hence the Maquoketa Caves State Park is our name, but there's more than just the beauty of the caves," Dykstra said.

The rest of the park will stay open, including all campsites and trails. Some of the cave openings and natural bridges can still be seen from the trails.

Officials don't know how long the caves will be off-limits.

"It's indefinite. It could be a day, could be a week, could be months, it could be years. We don't know. As time goes on, we'll be able to figure out more about it, and what we're going to do here at the park," Dykstra said.

The DNR website indicates the cave will be closed for at least this year. Hundreds of caves in the U.S. have been closed because of white-nose syndrome.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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