Noteworthy Bat Flight in TAG: Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge

Noteworthy Bat Flight In TAG Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge Scottsboro, Alabama Activities: Wildlife Observation, Photography & Hiking Rating: Easy

Located about 7 miles west of Scottsboro, Alabama is the Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge. As early as 1784, it is known that Cherokees used the cave to mine Saltpeter. The site continued to be used off and on from the War of 1812 through the Civil War and even during World War I. During the saltpeter mining a wooden railroad was constructed in the area and several mines were dug to help with the mining operation. Portions of the railroad and the mining tunnels which are now called the Catacombs still exist today on the site. During the twentieth century a building was constructed near the entrance of the cave that served as a fishing store and a nightclub. The operation ran from 1919 through 1956. A dance area was even placed adjacent to the lower entrance to take advantage of the cool air that blows from the cave. Later in 1962 the cave was prepared as a fallout shelter by a local National Guard and prior to the National Wildlife Refuge System purchasing the land the owner had planned to commercialize the cave.

It was in 1978 that National Wildlife Refuge System, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, purchased what was known as Blowing Wind Cave. They purchased 264 acres in order to provide protection for the federally endangered gray and Indiana bats and their critical habitat. Not only is this cave a major maternity cave (hibernaculum) for gray bats it also provides a summer roosting site for approx 300,000 – 400,000 gray and indiana bats. Over the years the management of the cave has included constructing gates on both entrances and restricting access during critical periods in order to minimize any disturbance to roosting bats. At one time the National Wildlife Refuge used to allow access to the cave at least twice a year to cavers. However due to WNS (White Nose Syndrom) the cave itself is currently closed.

Rare and unique species occur in Sauta Cave and on the preserve. The Alabama Natural Heritage Program listed the biodiversity rank of the cave as a B1, a site of very high significance. In addition to the gray and Indiana bats, other bat species are also present including the Rafinesque‟s big eared bat. The Tennessee Cave Salamander, unique invertebrates, and other rare animals also inhabit the cave. It is also noted that the number of Tennessee cave salamanders was the second highest recorded for caves in Alabama. In addition to the rare fauna, in 2002 the federally endangered Price‟s potato bean was also found on the preserve and nearly all of the 264 acres of the habitat are predominately hardwood forest.

The preserve is located just above the Sauty Creek embayment of TVA‟s Gunthersville Resevoir, 7 miles west of Scottsboro, Alabama. It is estimated the site receives 5,000 visitors annually and it is a free site to visit. The majority of visitors come to view the spectacular bat flight that peaks June through August of each year. At dusk, approximately 300,000 – 400,000 bats exit the cave to begin their nightly foraging. This event can last for up to one hour. To get to the entrance, drive West for approximately 7 miles on Hwy 72 from Scottsboro. Look for the access road on the south side of Hwy 72. Park at the refuge entrance, which has a gate that you cannot drive past and walk approximately 100 yards to the cave entrance on your right. Because of the bat roosts, you will be able to smell the cave before you even get to it. To help aid in the viewing experience the National Wildlife Refuge has constructed a viewing platform just prior to the entrance of the cave. You are not required to stay on the platform and the best viewing is from either side of the entrance of the cave itself. As one is standing next to the entrance not only can you hear the bats coming but you can feel the heat of them pouring out. It is by far one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have watching a bat flight. Remember to bring your umbrella as you may get a little wet from the bats flying above.