SPRING VALLEY, WI - These are worrisome days for Jean and Blaze Cunningham, owners of Crystal Cave. A fatal disease called White-Nose Syndrome has killed more than one million bats across North America in the last three years.
Crystal Cave, closed for the season, could be impacted by the DNR Ruling. Photo by Kaye Bird
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has new rules to prevent it from coming to Wisconsin, and it's those rules that could seriously impact Crystal Cave.
According to the DNR, people may be unintentionally spreading the fungus which is associated with the disease. They passed a rule that would force show cave owners to choose between bats and people. Jean disagrees with this ruling. "I have serious concerns about the science DNR is using. World renowned experts disagree with the DNR and what they are proposing," she said.
Following several complaints from cave owners, including the Cunninghams, the DNR postponed these changes. Cave owners now have approximately a month to come up with a compromise. If a compromise cannot be reached, here is the impact the ruling will have on this area.
"We had just over 35,000 visitors this season (2010) which is about par for a year," said Jean. "Of that number, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 are school children. We employed a total of 27 people this year, including Blaze and myself. Thirteen were college students (or just graduated), three were high school/just graduated, and nine were adults."
It may be difficult to accurately estimate how much money is spent locally because of the cave, but it's fair to say that the amount is significant.
"We purchase items at the grocery store and Cady Cheese and Stockman's for fudge ingredients. We also purchase items at the hardware, auto parts store and gas stations. Many of our visitors utilize the gas stations and restaurants during the summer months along with caving groups who explore the cave," said Jean.
And that's not all. Over the years, the Cunninghams have hosted the Wisconsin Speleological Society Hodag Hunt. Cavers utilized the Highland Ridge Campground and for both events, and the annual banquet was held at the Spring Valley Golf Course.
Jean continued. "One direct impact the Cave has on the area is the advertising we generate. ALL (underline) advertising, whether it is web, brochure, newspaper, radio or television, mentions Spring Valley. We also place "Spring Valley WI" on ALL (underline) souvenir items we sell. The billboards on the highway all say Spring Valley and all reference to the Cave at the state level includes "Spring Valley WI."
It is fair to say that the amount of publicity for the village is immeasurable.
The DNR ruling basically is this-show caves will have bats or tourists-not both. "We can't seal our cave," said Jean. And even if the Wisconsin DNR does manage to seal caves, it's a death sentence for the bats. "If they do that, it will kill the bats," said Jean. "Bats are homebodies. They live in the same cave year after year after year."
Local folks must get involved. They can do this by writing letters to Stacy Rowe, DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources, P.O. Box 7621, Madison, Wisconsin 53707. Stacy can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The public will also have an opportunity to attend a meeting regarding the DNR's ruling on November 29 beginning at 11:00 a.m. This meeting will be held at the Division of State Facilities, Eau Claire State Office Building, Room 139, 718 West Clairemont, Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Write, email, attend the November 29 meeting; do what you can to convince the DNR to reconsider its ruling.