Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, soon will be gating off most of the caves in Liberty Park in northern Summit County.
The action is being taken to prevent the public from spreading a deadly fungal disease that is killing millions of bats nationwide, said Mike Johnson, chief of natural resources for the park district.
Metal gates are planned at five Liberty Park caves that have never been open to the public, he said. Those caves house an estimated 100,000 bats of four species.
Glacier Cave, a stop on the 1.1-mile Ledges Trail that opened last fall, will not get gates and will remain open to the public, Johnson said. No bats live in Glacier Cave.
Last February, park biologists confirmed the presence of the white-nose syndrome in Liberty Park, which lies in Twinsburg, Twinsburg Township and Reminderville.
The number of bats there infected with the fungus is unknown, Johnson said.
But the mortality rate from the fungus has been about 98 percent, so Liberty Park probably will lose most of its resident bats soon, he said.
The fungus was first found in Ohio in April 2011 in southern Ohio’s Wayne National Forest in Lawrence County.
The fungus has killed more than 6 million bats in eastern North America since it was first detected in eastern New York in the winter of 2006-07.
People cannot contract the syndrome because it requires much cooler body temperatures, but humans can spread it from contaminated sites on clothing, footwear and outdoor gear. That potentially could infect new bat populations.
“We’ve done everything possible to protect the caves,” Johnson said. That includes posting educational signs, “cave closed” signs and increasing ranger patrols at Liberty Park.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recommended new gates.
For more information, call 330-865-8057.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.