High ozone levels aren’t healthy for people, especially the very young, elderly or sick. But the pollution is bad for plants, too, and researchers at Mammoth Cave National Park are trying to determine its effects on the park’s flora.
Ozone is created when pollution cooks in the sun. There’s a federal standard for ozone pollution—and the EPA announced this week that it will become more stringent soon—but that’s based on human exposure.
Bobby Carson is the chief of science and resources management at Mammoth Cave. He says the National Park Service has been measuring ozone damage to plants annually, and has found many are sensitive to high ozone concentrations.
“What we’ve been seeing is obviously these plants, trees and vegetation are out there in the resource 24/7, so they’re getting a lot more exposure,” said Carson.
Carson says common symptoms on plants include black spots, and high exposure to ozone makes them more susceptible to disease and insects. He says ozone levels will have to be reduced in order to adequately protect the plant species in the national park.
A researcher at Mammoth Cave National Park is fearful that a fungal disease is set to kill large numbers of bats in the region.
White Nose Syndrome was first discovered at the park in south-central Kentucky last year, and has impacted at least six of the eight bat species found inside the cave. Rick Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, says researchers at the park are expecting a spike in White Nose cases.
“Unfortunately we’re expecting potentially our next big milestone this year, when we may start seeing fairly large population drops, or possibly finding bats dying of white nose at the park.”
Watch: WKU Public Radio photojournalist Abbey Oldham recently produced a video exploring the potential impact of White Nose Syndrome on the bat populations at Mammoth Cave, and what the park is doing to combat the fungus:
Toomey says an estimated 6.5 million bats in North America have died due to White Nose Syndrome, although he believes the actual number could be much higher. Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee has recently seen a surge in bat deaths due to White Nose Syndrome—deaths Toomey says haven’t shown up yet in official estimates.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed removing a dam on the Green River near Mammoth Cave National Park.
The Daily News reports a study includes the recommendation, saying the action would improve aquatic life and recreational activities. Alternative actions include modifying the lock and not disturbing the dam, installing a barricade and disposing of the property or doing nothing.
The river has been closed to navigational traffic for decades and the study says the dams on the river have continued to deteriorate. In addition to removing Green River Dam No. 6 near Mammoth Cave, the study recommends disposing of three other dams along the river as well as Barren River Lock and Dam No. 1.
The federal agency is accepting comments on the proposal through March 17.
The National Park Service says a disease deadly to bats known as white-nose syndrome has been discovered in passageways of Mammoth Cave that are open to park visitors. Park spokeswoman Vicki Carson says there are no plans to change the way the park operates its tours or research.
Approved cleaning methods recommended by the Us S. Fish and Wildlife Service are being adhered to. For some time, visitors have had to walk through bio-security mats as they exit cave tours, for instance.
The disease was found in remote sections of Mammoth Cave last year. Carson says discovery of it in passageways open to visitors wasn't unexpected. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of cave-dwelling bats in eastern North America. Park superintendent Sarah Craighead said the disease affects bats, not humans.
In the event of a government shutdown, national parks across the country would shut down. This includes Mammoth Cave National Park. Vickie Carson at Mammoth Cave says everyone at the park, with the exception of security staff, would be furloughed.
“We would close all park facilities like the visitor center and the offices and picnic area,” said Carson. “We would initiate closure of park trails and roads, but some roads that are considered ‘through roads’ would remain open.”
If lawmakers can’t work out a deal to avert a shutdown, Carson says Mammoth Cave will wait for official word from the National Park Service before beginning the process of shutting down the park. Campers and those staying at hotel at Mammoth Cave would be given 48 hours to leave.
A major tourist draw in our region is offering a chance to see the world's largest cave system for free.
Mammoth Cave National Park will offer free Mammoth Passage cave tours on Sunday, August 25, in recognition of Founders Day, the founding day of the National Park Service.
“On August 25, 1916, Congress passed the Organic Act, which established the National Park Service,” said Superintendent Sarah Craighead. “I hope many of our friends and neighbors will help us celebrate by attending one of these free tours."
The free Mammoth Passage tours will depart from the visitor center at the following times: 8:45, 10:15, 11:15, 12:00, 1:15, 2:15, 3:30, and 4:30. The ¾-mile, 1¼ hours Mammoth Passage tour is limited to 40 people. Participants need to pick up a free ticket in the visitor center before going on the tour.
Mammoth Cave National Park is overcoming federal budget cuts to register some of the strongest summer attendance in recent memory.
The park's public information officer, Vickie Carson, says four cave tours were not offered this summer because of cuts related to the federal sequestration. But that didn't stop cave tour numbers from increasing one-to-two percent this year over the same time in 2012.
"If we continue at this rate through the end of the year, we'll probably be at 405,000 visitors through the cave this year. That would be a high point for at least the last ten years," Carson told WKU Public Radio.
Carson says with gas prices still well above $3 a gallon, Mammoth Cave has remained an attractive day trip option for those within close driving range.
Mammoth Cave National Park is preparing to continue current budget cuts into the next fiscal year. The popular southern Kentucky attraction has let many full-time and seasonal positions go unfilled due to the cuts.
Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead tells WKU Public Radio the government has informed all national parks to not expect any relief from the hit they took earlier this year from the sequestration.
"We are currently being told to plan to carry forward the cuts that we took this year, so as we start our budget effort we will plan on continuing that five-percent reduction in our budget," said Craighead. "We haven't been given any additional information regarding next year's budget."
Mammoth Cave has left several full-time positions go unfilled as part of their budget reduction, including the park electrician. Superintendent Craighead says the park is relying more on volunteer help than it normally would, and is asking for volunteers to help the park maintain its many hiking trails.
The chief of interpretation at Mammoth Cave National Park has decided to hang up his Smokey Bear hat and retire. Mike Adams, who has been with the National Park Service since 1973, said the completion of the new Mammoth Cave visitor center prompted him to make the decision.