MENTION THIS TO MOST OF THE LOCALS AND THEY’LL SCOFF AT YOU.
However, a growing number of us are questioning the federal government’s official reason for building the approximately mile-long tunnel: the highway over the mountain was responsible for an average of 5 deaths a year. This will be safer, they said, and it would allow the park to restore Cumberland Gap Trail to the way it looked when Daniel Boone walked it 200 years ago, they lauded.
It appeared the federal government really cared about us. But one of the first negative impacts the tunnel had was on tourism: Cudjo’s Cave, one of the area’s largest tourist attractions, no longer had a road to bring tourists to visit. Essentially whatever economic impact the impressive cave had on the region was suddenly strangled. Fast forward to today: visits to the cave are strictly regulated and only offered a few times a year. They tell us it’s because of white nose bat syndrome.
Mammoth Cave, in south central Kentucky, illustrates how they control and prevent white nose bat syndrome from spreading while keeping their cave open to the public (taken from the National Park Service’s website about Mammoth Cave at http://www.nps.gov/maca/whitenose.htm):
Significant evidence indicates that humans can and have transmitted the fungus from one cave to another, hastening its spread. While no tours at Mammoth Cave National Park enter areas used by colonies of bats for hibernation, bats do occasionally fly through toured sections of the cave year-round.
On the remote chance that you might come into contact with Geomyces destructans spores during your tour of Mammoth Cave, all participants in Mammoth Cave National Park cave tours will be required to walk the length of an artificial turf mat to remove spores and dirt after exiting the Cave. We also ask for your cooperation by washing your hands and changing clothes and footwear before visiting any other caves or mines.
If Mammoth Cave can take precautions to prevent the spread of this disease without turning the public away then Cumberland Gap National Park has a moral and ethical duty to our community to do the same. Thanks to the federal government the future of coal is looking bleak. To counter that, tourism tops the list of Southeast Kentucky’s possible revenue generators…but not if the Feds don’t give us our cave back.
DOES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAVE AN ULTERIOR MOTIVE FOR MAKING CUDJO’S CAVE DIFFICULT TO ACCESS?
Did the federal government remove the road and then begin to use the excuse of white nose bat syndrome to keep the public out of Cudjo’s Cave?
A woman who has spent her life in the surrounding community tells an interesting story about exploring the cave as a child. As a small girl, approximately 50 years ago or so, she and a friend would sneak into the cave to go swimming in the pools of water, which was quite a treat back then. To do this, they would squeeze back behind the stalactites and stalagmites which their small size afforded them. She tells of finding obvious military storage in one of the cavernous rooms: boxes, crates and equipment in a part of the cave that was off limits to the public.
Aside from the cave’s use by troops during the Civil War, this woman’s story is the first indication the U.S. military has had a recent interest in Cudjo’s Cave and Cumberland Mountain. Oak Ridge lies approximately 50 miles southwest in the same mountain chain. This area is littered with hundreds of miles of deep underground coal mines and natural caves. Is it too far a stretch to consider the possibility that Cudjo’s Cave, Cumberland Gap Tunnel and Oak Ridge could be connected?