ThumbnailBCI volunteer Kurt Menking has been working to protect Bracken Cave since he was a young boy.                        

Kurt and other Bracken volunteers work to repair the old shaft building.
Courtesy of Kurt Menking
Kurt Menking
Bracken Cave volunteer since 1978
Kurt bonding with wildlife.
Courtesy of Kurt Menking

My first trip to see Bracken Cave was in 1969.

When I was 12 or so, a friends father had a hunting lease on the property that surrounds the cave. We had to drive right by the cave to go swimming and fishing and hiking and other things boys like to do. We would often be leaving in the evening, near sunset, and see bats flying out, so wed stop to watch them.

Numerous times throughout the years, wed show up out there, and thered be some good old boys backed up to the cave, sitting on their tailgates, watching the bats. A lot of times, theyd have their shotguns, and when the bats got thick theyd try to see how many of them they could take out with a shot.

Ive always had a fascination with caves, and seeing the abuses and silliness going on out there turned into a project to help the owner take care of it, to show people that bats are friendly and an important part of the ecosystem. We began by clearing brush, trimming trees, making trails, and taking out the church and scout groups that were constantly calling the owner wanting to go out and see the bats.

When BCI acquired the cave, we started getting really proactive about getting it fixed up. We didnt spend a lot of money, but we did spend a lot of time. It was a labor of love then, and still is now.

Ive watched the protected area go from five acres around the entrance to almost 5,000 acres. I really believe the hundreds of thousands of people who have watched the bat flights over the last 50 years helped create the groundswell to protect it. And it was the volunteers and staff that helped spread education about bats, so that when it came time for action, it all could happen.