Caverns in southern Illinois will reopen to the public for the first time in over 10 years, after being closed due to an abundance of caution, officials announced.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources said the southern attraction will reopen Wednesday, as another spot for residents to enjoy as the state moves into Phase 5 of its coronavirus reopening plan.
“Starting June 16, visitors can explore these natural wonders feeling secure in IDNR’s ongoing management of the native ecosystem, which allows Illinoisans to explore nature while also letting nature thrive. The Illinois Caverns are the perfect addition to any Metro East or Southern Illinois road trip," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.
Until October, the caves will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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The caves were closed to the public in 2010 due to concern for the spread of White-nose Syndrome, which is a fatal disease impacting particular types of cave-dwelling bats, according to a release.
“Our biologists felt that proactively closing Illinois Caverns, and other state-managed caves across the state, was the best option to protect the state’s bat population from WNS," Joe Kath, endangered species program manager for IDNR, said.
The syndrome cannot be transmitted from animals to humans, according to officials, but can be deadly to hibernating bats. A white fungus infects the muzzle, ears and wings of the bat, and thrives in cold atmospheres similar to that of the caves.
Officials noted that WNS can possibly be transmitted from human to bat due to fungus on clothes and gear from the cave.
While closed over the last decade, officials said they were able to make all necessary repairs and maintenance in the caves.