Ezell’s Cave gets bat-friendly facelift

By: 

News Reporter
Volunteers have been working to build a new gate around Ezell’s Cave, which is important to the study of the Edwards Aquifer.

The Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA) has completed a project to allow for and encourage bat repopulation.

The TCMA Preserves Management Committee built a new gate on Ezell’s Cave over two Sundays and finished March 8, said Jim Kennedy, committee chair.

Kennedy designed a “cupola-style gate” to allow the population of cave myotis bats to enter the space with ease, he said. The structure allows them to enter and exit the cave’s vertical entrance.

The cage over the top of the entrance allows the bats to gain elevation over vegetation. The rock walls allow them to evade predators and avoid battling prevailing winds, Kennedy said.

Ezell’s Cave needed a gate to protect people from injuring themselves by falling into it, Kennedy said. The gate also prevents people from tampering with monitoring equipment inside the cave.

Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) officials placed equipment throughout Ezell’s and other cave systems in the aquifer, said Jon Cradit, geologist for the EAA.

“In the bottom of Ezell’s, there’s a lake room that is actually the aquifer,” Cradit said. “We have instruments in that lake room, and then it runs through a cable up to the surface.”

The equipment monitors water levels and chemistry to help predict aquifer trends and prevent unfavorable conditions, Cradit said.

“If something catastrophic happens, we’ll catch it,” Cradit said.

Cradit said much of the “matrix” of pores in the cave’s limestone has dried up due to drought conditions.

TCMA officials wanted to provide the cave bats access to Ezell’s after the population was displaced due to security measures, Kennedy said.

The cave’s original owner, Truman Saltonstall, covered the cave’s mouth with a steel plate in 1962 due to trespassing concerns, according to Ernest L. Lundelius’ Natural History of Texas Caves.

“Eventually, because of over-visitation and liability concerns, he basically welded a steel plate over the entrance, which, of course, was disastrous for the cave ecosystem,” Kennedy said. “No organic materials can get in and out, critters can’t come and go and all that kind of stuff.”

Saltonstall sold Ezell’s in 1970 to the Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit organization, according to Natural History of Texas Caves.

“The Nature Conservancy got involved, removed the steel plate and bought the cave and put another gate on it,” Kennedy said. “Although this gate wasn’t very ecologically friendly either.”

TCMA officials bought the cave in 2004 from the Nature Conservancy.

The preserve’s management committee for the TCMA funded the gate’s construction through grants, Kennedy said.

“We started raising some funds, and we got a grant through (the) Texas Parks and Wildlife (Department) and a bunch of private grants as well,” Kennedy said. “(We) raised enough money to buy the steel and hire a welder and to do all the work we needed.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provides funds through the Landowners Incentive Program (LIP), said Ron Ralph, Ezell’s Cave manager for the TCMA.

“The grant would offset our cost of steel and tools and things like that, and we could pay it back or match it by volunteer hours working on the cave,” Ralph said.

Volunteers were eager to help build the new gate.

“It was most amazing that people came out of the woodwork wanting to help, but these are dedicated cavers,” Ralph said. “These are folks that just help you whenever they can. It’s always kind of been that way with the caving community.”