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We have had the incredible opportunity to correspond with Jennifer Redell, Cave & Mine Specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, about caving activities in the Upper Midwest as a form of recreation.  As caves continue to see more and more activity, her expertise has proven useful in providing us with additional resources and advice for responsible caving activities.  See some of the links below to get caught up on other interesting articles regarding caving topics:

Interview: Understanding Cave Closures and White-Nose Syndrome

News: Bat White-Nose Syndrome Pushing West into Wisconsin

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Caving activities with guided groups and privately owned caves in the Upper Midwest.

 

Tripleblaze: Please provide a brief biography related to your previous work experience, and how you’ve journeyed into your current role.

Jennifer Redell: I’ve always loved nature, science, exploring, and teaching, and in college I majored in education and minored in geology. I began caving in 2001 and became involved with Midwest caving and the DNR bat monitoring program. Caving has taken me all over the country, but most of my experience has been in WI, MN, IA, and IN. Prior to beginning work at the WDNR in 2007, I worked for 6 years as a cave and environmental educator at a commercial cave. The discovery of White Nose Syndrome in NY state in 2007 and the devastating bat loss that followed meant that by 2009 the state realized a need for increasing bat conservation work in WI. In the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, I oversaw and coordinated the development of the Wisconsin Cave & Mine Catalogue which now houses 4 years of baseline hibernacula data on healthy WI bat populations. During this time I married WDNR bat ecologist David Redell. Dave and I shared a passion for bats, and carrying on his work after his 2012 death from brain cancer has been important to me. I am fortunate to work with an amazing team of WDNR staff and partners from other state and federal agencies. Bats have always been important, but they will only become more important as time goes by and the effects of WNS are felt in WI. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to see the last large concentrations of WI bats and that I am able to make my living doing something I’m passionate about.

Guided caving tour in Southeastern Minnesota (Holy Grail Cave)

Guided caving tour in Southeastern Minnesota (Holy Grail Cave)

What resources would you refer cavers to for education and preparation?

In addition to becoming familiar with the basic safety and conservation information, there are a number of excellent sources of information about caves, caving, and cave ecosystems online. Agencies and organized caving groups exist around the United States and world that can provide information specific to local caves. Visiting a commercial cave is a great way to begin learning about cave geology and the cave environment. Participating in a semi-wild caving tour or guided wild tour is also a great introduction to caving. A wild cave tour is a good place to test out techniques, caving communication, and your comfort level with an experienced leader present. Some caves in parks or on public land are open to cavers all the time or by permit, and many are suitable for beginner groups.

There are a number of websites with good information about caves, bats, and caving:

National white nose syndrome website: https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/
Wisconsin Bat Program: http://wiatri.net/inventory/bats/index.cfm
WDNR (search “Bats”): http://dnr.wi.gov/
Caves & karst: http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/caves/
Caving: http://www.caves.org/

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other DNR departments provides up-to-date information for cavers regarding regulations, best practices, and caving guidelines that help protect these fragile environments.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other DNR departments provides up-to-date information for cavers regarding regulations, best practices, and caving guidelines that help protect these fragile environments.

What opportunities exist for caving in Wisconsin and the surrounding area?

Most Wisconsin caves are relatively small and most cave owners have never allowed recreational caving activities on their land. In Wisconsin significant caves have been commercialized (Cave of the Mounds, Crystal Cave, Eagle Cave, Kickapoo Caverns) and offer guided tours. Semi-developed caves (Ledge View Nature Center, Maribel Caves County Park) offer “wild” caving experiences. The Door County Parks Department is planning to provide educational access by permit to some areas of Horseshoe Bay Cave in the future (summer 2015). Nearby Maquoketa State Park (IA) & Mystery Cave (MN) offer opportunities for wild caving and exploration as do many other caves throughout the country.

Cave map at Holy Grail.

Cave map at Holy Grail.

Would you recommend, or how would you recommend, beginning caving as a form of recreation?

Self-educate through reading from a credible source. Many websites, books, pamphlets, and cavers provide good information about caving but are not updated with current bat conservation or WNS prevention information. Be responsible for knowing about caving ethics, modeling them, and teaching them–even if those around you don’t adhere to laws, recommendations, or best practices.

Beginning cavers that took part in an introductory class which focused on responsible caving ethics and best practices in recreational caving.

What else would you like to share with people seeking to enjoy caving as form of recreation?

Damage to caves and cave critters cannot be undone. Cumulative effects of even low-impact human activities and actions need to be considered and can have great (often negative) impact on caves and their ecosystems. Location sharing cannot be undone and often leads to vandalism and disturbance to the cave ecosystem. Trespassing and disrespectful behavior can lead to cave closures by landowners.

Caving groups should be intentional about avoiding taking flash photography of cave wildlife, such as bats, in an effort to not disturb them with light, noise, and movement.

Caving groups should be intentional about avoiding taking flash photography of cave wildlife, such as bats, in an effort to not disturb them with light, noise, and movement.

The photos included here are from caving activities of guided groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota that demonstrate ethical caving activities.

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