The nine New York caves owned and managed by the Northeastern Cave Conservancy will open for summer visitation as scheduled on May 15. Caves are open according to the normal conditions, which may be found on the NCC website
These caves include the highly popular Clarksville Cave and Knox Cave, used by many youth groups. Also opening are Onesquethaw Cave, Crossbones Cave, Ella Armstrong Cave, Ladder Cave, Selleck’s Cave, Cave 575, and Levy’s Cave.
Cavers are asked to continue the decontamination of clothing and gear according to the protocol advisory issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These may be found at here.
The NCC caves had been closed since February 10, due to White Nose Syndrome, which is responsible for the deaths of thousands of bats in the Northeast. The NCC has been collaborating with the NY Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service with investigations and bat surveys over the winter.
May 15 marks the historical end of hibernation in this region, and the bats will have gone to their summer roosts. There is no evidence that WNS is harmful to humans. There is also no evidence at this point that humans are responsible for spreading WNS, but scientists are not ready to completely rule it out, and continue to be extremely cautious about the potential for WNS to spread beyond the northeast region of the US.
There is general consensus that there is no reason to restrict cave visitation in the NCC caves for the summer, as long as decontamination protocols are followed. Detailed instructions on the proper sanitation of various types of equipment are provided on the USFWS web site (see above). Alternatively, individuals should dedicate separate sets of equipment for use in affected and non-affected caves.
A letter is going out to more than 80 groups who have historically used the caves to explain the visitation process and decontamination protocols.
Cavers and the public are advised that the caves will remain open for the summer months, provided no evidence is found that cave access by humans during this time period is having a negative effect on the bat populations.
While no decision has been made at this time, it is possible that caves in the Northeast harboring bats, which are usually open for visitation in winter, may close this year by October 15th. This is the accepted standard date for the beginning of winter hibernation season in the northeast.