IMAGES: After 8-year closure, Wyandotte Caves reopen this weekend

LEAVENWORTH, Ind. (WDRB) -- When it is so muggy outside you can see the foggy humidity wafting in the hills of southern Indiana, step down into Wyandotte Cave and cool off, where it is always a cool 52 degrees inside.

Big Wyandotte Cave is like any other cave in that it is cold, dark and damp. But its unique features are impressive, like the so-called Washington Avenue, the largest passage in the cave.

"Most people, when they make it to here and see the major passage, they're just blown away," said Stanley Baelz with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks. "They just cannot get over how something like this has formed, and something like this exists."

Baelz is the assistant property manager at O'Bannon Woods State Park, where the caves are located. He explains how Washington Avenue got its name as he flips a switch that shines a light on a massive rock.

"Use your imagination: you can kind of make out George Washington's face," he said. 

Around every dark corner, there is something big to discover.

"This rock here," Baelz said, pointing to a rock, "this came off of the ceiling. This is the largest breakdown, single piece in the whole cave. It's estimated to weigh around 535 tons." 

Among the wide open space, you will also see some of the tiniest passageways which are for extreme adventurers only.

"What it is, is just a pit," Baelz said, talking about a tiny passage. "This is a weed-out for anyone going on the 5- or 8-hour tour. If they can't make it through here, we do not allow them to go on the 5-or 8-hour tour. We take people in there who don't have any type of claustrophobic issues, and they enjoy it, some people don't and will stand here and say, this is not for me." 

Currently though, only 2-hour tours are being offered in Big Wyandotte, which has more than nine miles of mapped routes.

"We're hoping in the near future, maybe next year, we'll have some spelunking tours," said Baelz.

Baelz says the caves have something for everyone, and says you can go as far or short as you want on the tour. You can check out Little Wyandotte Cave in just a half-hour. In that smaller cave, you will see more of the cool formations that take thousands of years to develop. If you are lucky, you may spot some creatures, like a salamander. 

Both caves in Leavenworth, Indiana, have been closed for eight years. Thousands of bats make the caves their home, but lately they have been fighting a fungal disease that kills them.

"This is one of the major places they hibernate in the Midwest, so it's been currently closed, due to that, to help the bats survive, get through the white-nose syndrome," said Baelz.

After eight years, agencies studying the bats have given the OK to open up the caves, and tour guides are ready.

"It's just something you don't see everyday. It's kind of the wild adventure," said Katelyn Rasche, a tour guide. "It's been closed off for so long. I'm a little nervous, there's supposed to be a lot of people here."

This weekend, the caves are open with free admission. And they will stay open until Labor Day when the bats start returning.

"Once they start coming back in, the cave will be closed again and until they leave," said Baelz. He says the caves will likely reopen again in May.

Typical tour groups have about 25 people in them. For the busy opening weekend, Baelz says they may have 100-150 people in each group to get everyone through. Click here for more information about the caves and ticket prices after this weekend.


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