It's enough to drive a nature lover batty, seeing gates keeping us out of nature.
Too many people visting the caves in Liberty Park in Twinsburg could be fatal to a group of Summit County residents, so MetroParks serving Summit County will put up metal gates.
Park officials say the danger isn't aimed at people but the bats who use the caves. Human visitors can spread white-nose syndrome, harmless to us but it can be fatal to the bats.
Similar warning signs are already posted at the Octagon and Ledges parks south of Peninsula.
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(MetroParks news release) Metro Parks, Serving Summit County will soon gate off most of the caves in Liberty Park, located at 9999 Liberty Rd., Twinsburg.
Glacier Cave, a stop along the 1.1-mile Ledges Trail that opened last October, will not be closed, but metal gates will be installed to block the entrances of the off-trail caves, according to Mike Johnson, chief of natural resources for the park district.
“People are going in and out of these caves, and that will eventually impact this fragile ecosystem,” Johnson said, referring to the moss-, fern- and lichen-covered ledges. “Right now, we are worried about the spread of white-nose syndrome in our bats.”
Park biologists confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in Liberty Park in February. The fungus responsible for WNS has killed more than 6 million bats in eastern North America since it was first detected during the winter of 2006-07.
The number of infected bats in Liberty Park is unknown, but thousands of bats – and several species – have been recorded there.
People cannot contract WNS because it requires much cooler body temperatures, but humans can spread it from contaminated sites on their clothing, footwear and outdoor gear, potentially infecting new bat populations.
“We have done everything possible to protect the caves,” Johnson said, citing educational signs, ‘cave closed’ signs and increased foot patrols by Metro Parks rangers. He said the new gates, recommended by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, will not take away from the park’s natural beauty, because they will be placed in areas that can’t be seen from the trail.
Although it is still unknown how bats are affected by WNS, one theory is that it irritates them – and wakes them up – during hibernation, forcing them to find food when little is available. The result of the early wake-up is starvation.