In an effort to stem the spread of White-nose Syndrome (WNS) the US Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended to the national park service in areas of risk that all caves be closed to public access thus the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed all caves and mine complexes to visitors.
Where are the caves in the Great Smoky Mountains national park? One of the caves named Gregory Cave is located in Cades Cove and is sealed at the entrance with iron bars. Since this cave was used as a fallout shelter sometimes the locals here referrer to it as that rather than a cave.
There are 3 other popular caves - once of which is also sealed with iron bars and not far from Cades Cove in an area known as White Oak Sinks which like Cades Cove has limestone formations which through time and erosion created caves.
In total the GSMNP has 17 caves and 2 mine complexes some of which the endangered Indiana bat makes its home. Some of these caves have access limited to park personal and scientists with the proper clearance.
The other caves that do have public can access are not meant for causal visitors and requires the use of a park permits to enter them which will not be granted now as long as there is a risk that the fungus which causes White Nose Disease can be spread by visitors entering a bats habitat. Enter a cave in the Great Smoky Mountains national park without a permit and get a $5,000 fine.
So far and estimated 400,000 bats in the Northeast have been killed by the White Nose Disease and if unchecked would be an ecological disaster. As of yet WND is not in Tennessee or North Carolina but can easily be spread into our currently disease free caves and mines. If the WND fungus infects a colony, within a year there may be as much as a 90% mortality rate.
Commercial caves such as Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend Tennessee may end up having to close also in order to stop the spread of this horrible disease. The water flowing through Tuckaleechee Caverns actually originates from the Cades Cove area.