Summer visitors to Maquoketa Caves State Park will once again have the opportunity to explore the park’s many caves. The caves have been closed since 2010 to slow the spread of a fungus, called White Nose Syndrome (WNS), which is fatal to bats.
Since first detected in 2006, WNS has contributed to the deaths of more than 5.5 million bats across eastern North America. It is known to spread from bat to bat. Officials are also concerned that it might inadvertently be spread from footwear and clothing worn by cave explorers moving from one location to another.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources remains concerned about the risk of spreading WNS from cave to cave by persons carrying the fungus, so visitors will be required to attend a short program informing them of the risks of WNS. This program will help visitors identify what would put them at risk of transmitting the fungus. Once visitors have attended the program, they will receive a wristband that functions as a permit for cave exploration.
Maquoketa Caves is hiring extra summer help to provide this program as well as guided tours of Dance Hall Cave and other natural features of the park. “We are very excited about having interpretive programs available at Maquoketa Caves again,” said John Maehl, northeast district state parks supervisor for the Iowa DNR. “Feedback has demonstrated the high value to visitor experience that a professional guide offers. There is so much to experience and learn at Maquoketa Caves and we are very happy to be helping people get the most out of their experience there.”
In cooperation with the Friend’s of Maquoketa Caves, the DNR will be hosting a grand opening on April 14.
“We are calling it ‘Pancakes in the Park’ and will be serving pancakes and fresh homemade maple syrup harvested from the park trees. There will be several educational programs available as well as cave tours,” Maehl said. The open house is from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and the programs and tours continue until 2 p.m.
Starting May 26 staff will be providing the WNS Awareness Program for cave access from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. From April 14 to May 26 programs will be provided as often as possible and visitors may stop at the park office to contact staff about getting a permit for cave access. Group that would like to visit the caves should contact the park prior to arrival to make arrangements for a guided tour and the WNS Awareness Program.