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You might be wondering, what possibly could be the connection between bats, the only flying mammal, and coal mining, a major source of fuel for the production of electricity? In fact, the two are intimately linked. Coal has been mined in the extreme southwest part of Indiana for well over a hundred years. Today, the vast majority of this mineral is removed using surface mining methods, but in the 1800's, coal was removed almost entirely from underground. One of these old underground coalmines is still located and can be visited in Turkey Run State Park.
Much of the park property was originally owned by the Lusk family. To heat this home, Salmon and later, son John, operated a small coal mine located at an outcrop at one of the bluffs of Sugar Creek, not far from the house. Today, it is the site of an old drift mine that has been open for well over 100 years and thanks to the Division of Reclamation is now a habitat for bats. Through the removal of the old fencing and installation of a bat gate, not only is the public protected from a very dangerous opening but bats can now frequent the cave.
This project is not the typical large, reclamation project that the division becomes involved in. It consists simply of the closure of one mine entrance; was completed in two days; and cost less than $2000.00. However, there are several very unique aspects of this project that resulted in protecting the public from a hazardous mine opening; providing habit for bats; and offering an ongoing, unique educational opportunity for Park visitors. This site is located within the boundaries of Turkey Run State Park in some of the most scenic areas of the state. Much of the park property was originally owned by the Lusk family. Salmon Lusk fought in the War of 1812 and served under General William Henry Harrison in the Battle of Tippecanoe. In 1826, he completed the construction of a grist and saw mill on the north banks of Sugar Creek. This mill was built with a hand-cut stone foundation and a dam that diverted water through a race to turn a horizontal waterwheel situated under the mill floor. In 1841, Salmon built a brick home also on Sugar Creek where he and his wife raised eight children. The Lusk Home still stands today and is one of the highlights of the Park's historical resources. To heat this home, Salmon and later, son John, operated a small coal mine located at an outcrop at one of the bluffs of Sugar Creek, not far from the house. In the 23rd Annual Report of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Geology, published in 1898, the State Geologist, W.S. Blatchley states "4 ft. of coal is reported on John Lusk's place, north side of Sugar Creek". It is at this old drift mine that this project takes place.
Today, a hike on Trail 4 will take you directly to the Lusk Coal Mine. For decades, thousands of Park visitors have passed by the coal mine, many of them stopping and peering into its dark depths. For obvious safety reasons, the park made several attempts at installing fences across the mine entrance with the desire to keep people from actually entering the still open mine. These attempts were never completely successful, as each fence would ultimately be breached.
Old abandoned mines often mimic natural cave environments very well and many animals, such as bats, inhabit them as if they were natural caves. In fact, abandoned mines have become critical habitat for many bat species, including the federally endangered Indiana Bat. Unfortunately, the fences, which were never successful at keeping people out of the mine, were very successful at keeping the bats out. Although this mine may have provided suitable habitat, the bats were unable to negotiate the chain link fences, and therefore unable to utilize this potential habitat. When this project was undertaken, there were no bats utilizing this mine.
When the site was brought to the attention of the Division of Reclamation, the project was immediately placed on the high priority list for federal funding through the Abandoned Mine Lands Program. The main concern was the public safety hazard of an open mine in a heavily visited state park that had a hiking trail leading directly to it. Even though no bats were currently utilizing the mine, the potential was there for bat habitation, and therefore this issue was worthy of consideration. The installation of a "bat gate" would provide adequate protection for both bats and people.
It was obvious the typical contractors that were accustomed to pushing huge amounts of dirt and rock with large bulldozers, backhoes and scrapers would not be the best choice to build a bat gate within the boundaries of one of Indiana's most visited and scenic State Parks. The steep terrain and remoteness of the site were not conducive to normal reclamation options. Therefore, all materials, equipment, tools and supplies would have to be carried in by hand down the hiking trail which included a narrow, winding path on a very steep slope. All of the bat gates in Indiana have been built under similar conditions: manual labor, no heavy equipment, little to no impact to the surrounding environment.
Since most contractors are unwilling to take on such small, labor intensive projects, a call to the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife's Non-game Biologist put the division in contact with the Indiana Karst Conservancy (IKC). One of the IKC's main purposes is to protect Indiana's natural cave environments, which often suffer from vandalism and littering from thoughtless visitors. They understood how to install bat gates.
The IKC realized that installing bat gates for the Indiana Division of Reclamation would be of mutual benefit. Abandoned coal mines, although not natural, offered additional bat habitat when many natural caves were being developed, polluted, or completely destroyed. The public safety hazard would be eliminated, but the bat habitat would be protected. Since the IKC members are all volunteers, which means that they all have normal "day jobs", all work had to be accomplished only on weekends.
The date that had been scheduled to build the gate was the last weekend of April, 2000. The weather was perfect, clear, sunny and crisp. Plenty of volunteers showed up that day. The first order of business was to get all the materials, supplies and tools down to the mine entrance. This task alone proved to be very difficult. The coal mine was more than a half mile from the nearest road, but fortunately, there was a trail that could be driven to within 100 yards of the mine entrance. However, this was a hiking trail, it was not necessarily designed for vehicular use, especially a large truck and trailer carrying 20 foot lengths of angle iron. And because there was absolutely no room to turn the truck and trailer around at the end of the trail, the driver not only had to negotiate his way in and around rocks, trees and terrain, but he had to do it all in reverse.
From that point, the workers still had another 100 yards to go, and that was down a rough, crooked set of steps cut into the side of a very steep slope. Teams of volunteers carried tools, portable welders, cutting torches, tanks, and 20 foot lengths of angle iron to the mine entrance. The 4' X 4" angle iron cross members weighed in at roughly 200 pounds while the 6" X 6" angle iron sill plate weighed 300 pounds. Nearly a ton of tools and materials were carried down by hand. After two very long, tiring days the bat gate was done.
Installing bat gates at abandoned coal mines is nothing new. Hundreds of them have been installed out West. Twenty-four have been set here in Indiana, and five more are planned. What about the bats? In the fall of 2000 a bat survey was conducted in order to determine if in fact bats had discovered the newly gated mine and had begun to inhabit it. The results of this survey were conclusive, bats were indeed utilizing the newly gated mine. Informational signs have been installed in the park that describe this exciting project.
Yes, there is more to the story and some of you readers may like more information on bat gates or view more pictures. Please feel free to contact Mark Stacy in the Division of Reclamation at the Jasonville addresses listed on the Contact Us page.