September 2010, Volume 8, Issue 9

Smashing Pennies

Crystal Cave in western Wisconsin offers a dramatic geological display that draws more than 20,000 visitors a year, plus another 12,000 or so youngsters on educational visits. The privately owned cave also provides a winter home for hundreds of bats of several species. And thanks to BCI Members Blaze and Jean Cunningham, who own the cave, many of those human visitors make a small donation to BCI’s White-nose Syndrome Emergency Response Fund.

The vehicle for these donations is the cave’s popular “penny press” that produces souvenir tokens. Tourists insert a penny and two quarters, and the machine smashes the penny into a thin oval and imprints it with a cartoon caveman and the name of the cave. For three months out of the year, those two quarters go to BCI.

The Cunninghams, members since about 1997, close the cave from November through March to protect hibernating bats from disturbance, and Jean notes that throughout the year, “we do not allow anyone to disturb the bats in any way.”

And, she says, “Education about the behavior, benefits and conservation needs of bats is a big part of any visit to this cave. We felt it is important to make sure everyone understands the problems bats now face” because of White-nose Syndrome.

“Pressing a penny,” Jean says, “is an easy, inexpensive and fun way for our visitors to get involved in the donation process. Some people just hand over money and tell us they ‘don’t want the penny, but make sure the bats get this donation.’ ”

BCI also gets penny-press donations from Talking Rocks Cavern in Missouri and Raccoon Mountain Caverns & Campground in Tennessee, with a similar donation plan to begin soon at Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas. Friends like these help BCI protect bats and their habitats. Your support can make a difference.

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