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Wyandotte Cave set to reopen in 2016

Wyandotte Cave, closed for the past several years, will reopen in 2016, as the two-year state budget passed by lawmakers last Wednesday includes $1.7 million for facility upgrades.
District 74 State Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth, on Friday said work on the park ‘ including the razing of the main building, which will be replaced, and rewiring in the cave ‘ will begin later this year.
‘The game plan is we’ll have it open in the summer of 2016,’ he said.
Although official tours will not begin until next year, Arnold said there has been talk about volunteers with the Indiana Karst Conservancy taking people through with LED lanterns this summer.
The cave has been closed to protect hibernating bats, including the endangered Indiana bat, and to prevent the spread of the infectious white-nose syndrome, which was confirmed in 2011.
Arnold said more has been learned about WNS in recent years.
He said he had conversations with officials from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which had ‘highly recommended’ that the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources close the cave. Arnold said he questioned why Wyandotte Cave was closed while the federal Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which also is infected with WNS, remains open.
Visitors to Mammoth Cave are required to walk the length of an artificial turf mat to remove spores and dirt after exiting the cave. Arnold said he isn’t sure Wyandotte Cave will employ that particular system but said some type of decontamination measures will be enacted.
Arnold said reopening Wyandotte Cave has been a priority of his since he first was elected in 2012. During this legislative session, he authored House Bill 1206, which required the cave to reopen to the public next summer.
The bill was assigned to the Natural Resources Committee, of which Arnold is the vice chair. It then was sent to the Ways and Means Committee, where language from the bill was inserted into the biennial budget.
‘I knew the money was going to be there, but I wasn’t confident there was going to be a specific line item,’ Arnold said.
Arnold said District 47 State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, was instrumental in gaining support for the $1.7 million in funding in the Senate. He added he is confident the cave, which will be open April through September, will generate that much revenue for the state within the first three years of operation.
Previously, the cave had been run by Marengo Cave owner Gordon Smith under a concession agreement. Arnold said the state may farm it out again, but, right now, it is to be operated by the state.
Besides financially benefiting the state, the cave’s reopening will be a boon to businesses in nearby Leavenworth, Arnold said.
‘That area right there is going to see an overall increase in traffic,’ he said.
Arnold said Leavenworth business owners and others, including Crawford County Chamber of Commerce president Morton Dale, have been advocating for the cave’s reopening. He noted there even is a Facebook page ‘ ‘Let’s Work Together to Re-open Wyandotte Cave’ ‘ in support of reopening the cave.
Another incentive in getting the cave reopened next summer is the state will celebrate its bicentennial in 2016. With nearby Corydon being Indiana’s first capital, the area is expected to see an increase in visitors.
‘I felt like, if we had a state park, it should be open,’ Arnold said.
Part of O’Bannon Woods State Park inside the 26,000-acre Harrison-Crawford State Forest, Wyandotte Cave features 25 miles of passages on five levels. Included within are Rothrock Cathedral, a room with an almost 1,300-foot circumference, with Monument Mountain, a 175-foot-tall rock pile in the center, and the Pillar of Constitution, a column of white calcite that measures more than 70 feet in circumference.

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