People have been dumping trash into Saltpeter Pit in Pulaski County, Kentucky, for decades. Now there’s a 45-foot-high pile of trash that includes just about everything from refrigerators, stoves and chairs to a battered vehicle or two and a lot of things that defy description. And still a few bats come.
The Herald-Leader newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky, reports that “about 650 rare Rafinesque’s big-eared bats hibernate from fall to spring in [the cave, beyond the unofficial dump]. The trash buildup could eventually prevent them from returning to the cave or could trap them inside it.”
So volunteers, mostly cavers, have been rappelling into the 80-foot-deep pit to begin the incredibly laborious task of clearing the garbage.
The cave at the bottom of the pit is about 2,000 feet long, said David Foster, executive director of the Kentucky-based American Cave Conservation Association. Bat guano was mined from the cave during the War of 1812 for the saltpeter needed to make gunpowder, the newspaper said.
The Herald-Leader said hibernating bats were discovered last year by a team from Bat Conservation International, as part of a program to explore old saltpeter caves throughout Kentucky in search of caves historically used by bats.
BCI, supporting the American Cave Conservation Association, to help with clean-up efforts, with each contributing funds and staffing. Along with other organizations and companies, the team raised $25,000, including donated materials and time, the newspaper said.
Kentucky lists the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat as a threatened species. Its nursery colonies usually total four to 50 bats. The 500 hibernating bats in the cave, Foster told the newspaper, represent a very significant population.
Volunteers built a steel lift to haul the trash out of the cave during the 10 days planned for the project. When the cleanup is finished, the paper said, a gate will be built across the opening to prevent more trash from being thrown into the pit while allowing bats to fly through. Air flow, humidity and temperature will also be tracked because bats need to hibernate in a stable environment, said Lee Florea, one of the directors of the National Speleological Society.