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Cave gates serve different purposes


Sensitive resources near Nickajack Reservoir in southeast Tennessee should be safe from human disturbance after a recent gate installation. TVA crews transported just under 1.5 tons of steel, first by boat and then by hand, through a small access corridor in order to reach the pit cave itself.

If you’re hiking on TVA-managed public lands and happen to come upon a cave entrance surrounded by fencing or barred by a gate, give it a wide berth.

TVA’s “cave gating” program is designed to protect sensitive ecological and cultural resources by limiting access to caves. Most frequently, gates are installed in locations where endangered species could be impacted by human disturbance. In the case of archeological resources — mostly cave art — gates are used to preserve the condition of the resource and to prevent vandalism.

It’s not an easy project to tackle, by any means. Heavy steel and equipment must be transported to the site, which may be in a remote area. Safety is a big concern, since gate installation often involves welding steel over an open pit or entrance.

All the intensive planning and labor is justified, however, since the program seeks to address threats from human disturbance to federally protected species such as Indiana and gray bats. TVA’s Natural Heritage staff monitors bat populations and determines if human activity may be affecting a colony. Breeding season, from approximately May 15 to Aug. 15, is a particularly vulnerable time. So-called “maternity colonies” can easily become stressed if disturbed. Special “bat friendly” gate designs are used to allow these animals to pass through or over the structure, while preventing access by humans. All gates are custom-fitted for each cave opening.






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