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Building a bat gate

September 24th, 2008

Well, we’ve got more than a bar of Internet tonight, so I figure it’s time we got caught up on some blogging.

Horn Hollow Cave

After we spent a couple of weekends at the Great Saltpetre Preserve caving with some great people from the area, we headed towards Boone, NC to start our next stint as carnies. However, we got sidetracked leaving Kentucky as Jenn noticed Carter Caves State Park was just a few miles out of the way. As this is where Crawl-a-thon is held in January, we decided it would be worth a quick stop over and looksee.

We got up bright and early and explored Laurel and Horn Hollow caves. Both are rather short trips, that have been ‘prepared’ for tourists, but they are still unlit, self-led trips. Horn Hollow has a beautiful entrance, but is otherwise not much to look at from inside. Laurel was quite a pretty little cave and we were able to get off-trail and explore the upper passage as well as climb a small waterfall that most non-cavers would have never seen.

Roy and Jerry. The gate is now complete.

Once we got to the camper, covered in cave mud, and I got stripped down to my high performance underwear, a couple of guys walked up, and rather than running away, they wanted to chat, which marked them as cavers and not afraid of dirty, half-dressed hippies in a parking lot. This was our introduction to Roy and Jerry. They were in the area building a bat gate, which is designed to let bats in, but keep people out during bat hibernation season. Since we were the only muddy folks around with a bat sticker on our vehicle, they assumed we’d be good suckers, err… candidates, to volunteer to help out.


Well, they were right and we decided to come out with them the following day and see just what it takes to build a bat gate. It turns out, that it requires a lot of sweat and a fair helping of calluses, bruises, burns and muscle. Just a friendly note: if anyone ever asks if you’d like to ‘pack in steel’, run away screaming. Steel gets packed in increments of roughly 400 lbs, in this case by five guys along a ridge, both uphill and downhill. After a few hours of this, I was more than happy to be put in charge of the acetylene torch. While I spent a lot of time bending and kneeling, it beat the heck out of packing steel. Luckily, the forestry service and wildlife management services were contributing a lot of manpower to the project or we’d still be trying to get the steel in today.

Roy and Jerry were super nice folks to work with. They took us out to eat a few times and related lots of caving stories. By the end of the first day, Roy had promised to pay for our campsite as long as we hung around. By the end of the second day, we were on the payroll for the duration as well. By the end of the week, we’d been promised a spot to camp in Texas or Virginia and a cave trip into Mexico if we manage to get out west this winter.

The gate from inside the Bone Hole cave

This was Roy’s 310th gate and he says he’s quitting… after just one more gate. We had a great time working with Roy and Jerry as well as all the forestry and wildlife folks. You can’t beat doing something new and intriguing, getting paid for it and having a free campsite while meeting interesting people!

View more images from Carter Caves State park, including building the bat gate, Horn Hollow Cave, and Kevin’s Kave in our gallery.

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5 Responses to “Building a bat gate”

  1. Are these bat gates seasonal? They look like substantial structures.

  2. johnny says:


    A small opening is built into the gate which can be unlocked. Typically, this is left unlocked from May 15th until Labor Day (may vary state to state). Obviously, gates are only needed on caves that are used as bat hibernaculum, and even then, often only caves that house endangered species are gated.

  3. Rene says:

    Oh you guys, how awesome. That’s what taking time off is all about, that kind of serendipity that can change the course of things and make the good stuff even better.

    Hey, Jim and I would be interested in working for these guys when we are in Texas. Put a good word in for us, will ya? Thanks!

  4. johnny says:


    Before you jump onboard, I’ve got to tell you that for the most part, volunteer positions are not paid; we just got lucky and they were pretty short on manpower. Also, I believe most of the gate work is done on the east coast where there is a higher human population density and therefore a higher need for gates. Finally, bat gates are only built during the ‘open season’ from May 15th until Labor day so as to minimize the impact on hibernating bats.

    All that being said, if you’re still interested, I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the ACCA (American Cave Conservation Association (Roy & Jerry etc (Don’t you love nested parentheses?))). I haven’t worked with BCI (Bat Conservation International), but I understand they also make use of some volunteer labor.

  5. Jim Kennedy says:

    I am the Cave Resources Specialist for Bat Conservation International, and we do indeed need volunteers for gating projects periodically all over the country. We don’t just protect hibernacula, such as Bone Hole Cave, but also maternity caves and other bat sites, including abandoned mines. We work closely with ACCA all the time. In fact, one of our biologists, Michael Baker, was at the Bone Hole Cave gating project. Well written article, thanks for posting it and the photos!

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