Bats in Hailes Cave at J.B. Thacher State Park have been kept safe all winter long thanks to a bat gate installed by State Parks staff along with volunteers from the Northeastern Cave Conservancy and staff from the DEC. Hailes Cave serves as the winter hibernation site, or hibernaculum, for at least two species of bats. However, since the 1980s the population of bats in Hailes Cave, as well as other hibernacula throughout New York, has been in decline. Most recently, bat species in the North America have been afflicted with the outbreak of a rapidly spreading fungal infection which produces white nose syndrome, a condition which has decimated bat populations as threatens multiple bat species with extinction.
Besides white nose syndrome, recreational overuse of the cave area has been identified as one threat to the bats which can be easily mitigated. Frequent visitation to the cave, particularly between October and April, can disturb the bats during a time when they need to conserve their energy into order to survive until it is time for their spring emergence in April. The bat gate at Hailes Cave will protect the bats home during the winter while setting the stage for allowing patrons summer access to the cave through a permit system in the future, as was recommended in the park’s recent Master Plan.
While the bat gate will keep curious visitors out of the bats’ winter home, the horizontal position and spacing of the main bars allow the bats to pass in and out easily. Each of the horizontal bars weighs more than 190 pounds and, over the course of three days, workers and volunteers moved over 3,000 pounds of steel from the top of the escarpment to the gate location 75 feet back into the cave at the base of the cliff! A huge thank you to the NCC and the DEC for their help protecting our State Parks’ natural resources!