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.
Mammoth Cave National Park is planning an increase in the amount of fees visitors would pay for cave tours, camping, and picnic shelters.
Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead announced the proposed fee increases Friday afternoon. Under the plan, the cost of most cave tours would increase by $1-$2 dollars, with camping fees climbing to $5 from the current rate of $2.
The cost of reservable picnic shelters would jump $25.
Those interested in commenting on the proposed changes can do so until December 5.
Craighead says the proposed fee increases would result in an additional $350,000 a year that the park would reinvest in projects.
“Our highest priority right now is to complete the renovations of the Mammoth Cave Hotel. The fees are also used to pay for the cave guides who do the tours, and for a variety of operational costs, like cleaning the campground," the Barren County native said.
Eighty percent of the fees collected at Mammoth Cave are used to pay for facilities and services at the park, with the other 20 percent used support projects at national parks that don’t charge entrance fees.
The chief law enforcement officer at Mammoth Cave National Park says one of her top challenges is keeping ginseng-poachers out of the area.
The plant’s root is highly prized for its alleged medicinal benefits, and Mammoth Cave Chief Ranger Lora Peppers says wild-grown ginseng can command high prices on the black market--especially in certain Asian countries.
“Digging ginseng in the park is obviously not allowed, but a lot of people are looking for that wild-grown ginseng. The ginseng that you find in some farms is not valued as highly as native ginseng.”
Peppers, an Edmonson County native and WKU graduate, says park employees have scoured the area to find ginseng and mark plants found within the park’s boundaries. Those markings make it much easier to prosecute poachers who sell illegally-harvested ginseng taken from the Mammoth Cave area.
A new report shows tourism related to Mammoth Cave National Park is responsible for $40 million in economic benefit to the region.
The analysis conducted by a group of economists with the U.S. Geological Survey measured the impact of tourism dollars spent by park visitors in 2013. According to the report, 494,541 visitors came to Mammoth Cave National Park last year, with tourism dollars supporting 567 jobs in the region.
Mammoth Cave acting superintendent Lizzie Watts told WKU Public Radio the nearly half-a-million visitors who came to the south-central Kentucky attraction did more than just spend money. She says they also walked away with an enhanced respect for the region that they take back with them to their communities across the U.S. and globe.
“The environment of Mammoth Cave is one of the most unique in the whole world. So just the experience of walking in the cave for many people, it’s the one time--and maybe the only time—they get that experience. And they can take that all over the world and say ‘yes, I was in the largest cave system in the whole world.’”
Watts says Mammoth Cave is seeing an increase in the number of visitors interested in boating along the Green River, as well as those using the eight-mile Big Hollow Trail, which was opened in December to mountain bikers, hikers, and runners.
“The park itself is really a mecca for recreation above the ground, in many ways, both biking and hiking, and boating and canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding.”
Overall, the new report says the 273.6 million visitors to National Park Service attractions in 2013 spent $14.6 billion in areas within 60 miles of a park.
White Nose Syndrome has spread to more areas at Mammoth Cave National Park and may end up costing farmers billions of dollars
After a 10 minute climb up a gentle incline just off the main trail at Mammoth Cave National Park, Rick Toomey stands on a wooden platform overlooking Dixon Cave.
“It’s one of our most important hibernation sites,” said Toomey, the park’s research coordinator.
He says during the winter thousands of bats, including several different species hibernate here. But those numbers might be on the verge of a drastic change.
“This is a site that could be vastly altered in five years. In five years we might go in there and find five or ten bats total,” said Toomey. “It’s a very realistic possibility based on what’s been seen elsewhere. And that would be devastating to our ecosystem up here.”
The problem: White Nose Syndrome. It started in the northeast in 2006. It was first noticed at Mammoth Cave in 2013 and has since spread to the caves that welcomed nearly half-a million visitors last year.
Toomey says the fungus that gives White Nose Syndrome its name is just one of the symptoms of the devastating disease.
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.
Governor Beshear’s Communications Director Kerri Richardson says Beshear needs more information regarding future federal reimbursement and the level at which the facilities could be reopened before deciding on reopening federal parks like Mammoth Cave and Land Between the Lakes.
There’s no word yet from Governor Steve Beshear regarding whether he will use state funds to reopen national parks that have been closed due to the government shutdown.
The Obama administration says it will allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks.
The Governors of Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, and Utah have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impacts caused by the park closures. The closing of parks in Kentucky, such as Mammoth Cave National Park, has sent workers home and is a drag on local economies that benefit from tourists who visit the park and other nearby attractions.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a letter Thursday to the four governors that the government will consider offers to pay for park operations, but will not surrender control of national parks to the states.
The United States put on an adoption ceremony today at Mammoth Cave National Park.
In a courtroom made by nature, the U.S. adopted 39 new citizens. In the depths of a cave, a federal judge presided over the ceremony featuring natives of 22 countries around the world. Park Ranger David Alexander sang "The Star Spangled Banner," and Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead gave the country's newest citizens and official welcome.
"We are so pleased and honored to have you spend your first few minutes as citizens in a national park," remarked Craighead. "There's not a more perfect place to have that occur."
Nearly 50 immigrants from 23 countries will become U.S. citizens in a ceremony Friday at Mammoth Cave National Park in south central Kentucky. The ceremony is possible through an agreement between the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the National Park Service.
"There have been a number of them at Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty...and of course national parks are so American, and they're public land, so they belong to all American citizens," says Mammoth Cave Public Information Officer Vickie Carson.
The ceremony will take place inside a cave and feature remarks from Mammoth Cave's deputy superintendent Bruce Powell, a naturalized citizen himself. Mammoth Cave last hosted a citizenship ceremony in 2011.