What Happened to Seven Caves?
Seven Caves went out of business in 2005
The Highlands Nature Sanctuary, operated by the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, is located in the area that used to be known as 7 Caves. For those who may have visited 7 Caves during the long and historic span it was open to the public, please note that the tourist attraction went out of business in 2005, and cave exploration is no longer part of the offerings at the Sanctuary.
Can we still see the caves?
No. The caves (on approximately one acre of land) have been set aside for wildlife restoration and are not accessible to the public. Read on for more details.
Yes, absolutely! Although the Nature Sanctuary is no longer a caving destination, it is nevertheless an outstanding natural area well worth the time to see. Trails to the 100-foot high Rocky Fork Gorge have been expanded from the original 7 Caves trails, and are open to the public on weekends from April-October. The old 7 Caves visitor center has been full restored and remodelled, and now contains a fine art museum highlighting the importance of Ohio's forests, and a conference space.
Along our trails you will see rare plants, sheer rock walls, grottos, and the compelling rock formations of the Rocky Fork Gorge, while learning more about the treasures of our Eastern forests. We highly recommend a visit!
The Good News:
Why restrict cave access?
In 2005, the Highlands Nature Sanctuary, which at that time bordered the 7 Caves park, was able to save the out-of-business park from being developed as private housing lots. In keeping with our non-profit's mission of restoring wilderness areas, the lights and developments in the caves were removed, and the process of restoring them as they once were - wild caves for wildlife habitat - began. Cave eco-systems are extremely rare in Ohio and we are managing one of the last wild caves systems to be found anywhere in the state.
Shortly after removing the lights, healthy populations of bats returned to using the caves for their daily rest and winter hibernation. We are thrilled to report that four species of bats are once again inhabiting the caves.
Unfortunately, the bats are threatened by a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome that is destroying bat populations east of Ohio (harmless to humans) and is rapidly spreading. Mammal experts have asked all cave operations in the eastern US to not permit people to enter active bat hibernation sites, in an effort to help slow down the spread of the disease. Extinction is now a concern for several bat species, and we are taking the bat experts' recommendations very seriously on behalf of our natural bio-diversity.
Are there plans to reopen the caves in the future?
Not at this time. The white-nose syndrome is still a weighty concern, and we must do everything possible to protect our native bats.
In January of 2013, Division of Wildlife biologists in special protective gear checked the populations of bats in the caves. We are happy to report that we have still seen no decrease in bat populations in the caves, and no evidence of the white-nose syndrome, which is very fortunate news.
Unfortunately, during the 200 years the caves were open to unrestricted exploration, severe damage was inflicted on the geologic formations, resulting in the breaking of every stalactite and stalagmite that once graced the caves. We are pleased to be able to say that these cave features are now growing back, ...ever so slowly.