Indian Caverns sale a boon to local anglers

Additional public fishing access to Spruce Creek made available

FRANKLINVILLE — Local anglers have more than 1,200 feet of additional public fishing access to Spruce Creek, a renowned wild brown trout fishery and tributary to the Little Juniata River.

The additional public fishing access along Route 45 is the result of the recent sale of Indian Caverns and 13 acres of land to the Western Pennsyl­vania Conservancy.

For now, fishermen can use the bridge, which has a 6 ton weight limit, and park in the old Indian Caverns parking lot to access Spruce Creek.

The conservancy purchased the property for $1.35 million from the Rev. Aden Wertz of Williamsport, who owned the business with his sister, Jody Brisbin of Tipton, said Michael Knoop, land protection manager for the conservancy and project manager.

Public access to Spruce Creek has been limited for decades because of the large amount of surrounding private lands.

Indian Caverns had been in the Wertz family since Harold “Hubby” Wertz and his wife, Lenore, first visited the cave in 1928 and discovered it was nearly triple the size of the cave system as it had previously been known. Indian Caverns opened June 15, 1929, and closed in October 2016.

Plans call for the cave to be used for bat conservation. The property will be conveyed to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission once work to replace an access bridge is complete.

That work is expected to be completed in May or June, Knoop said.

Since 2014, the conservancy has been working closely with scientists and wildlife managers from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain information and expertise on how the property can be restored for bat habitat and conservation.

Bats hibernate in caves during winter and require these areas to be cool and humid with stable temperatures between 33 and

50 degrees. Native tri-colored and little brown bat species are known to have recently used the cave for hibernation, despite its decadeslong commercial use and limited points of entry.

According to PGC Wildlife biologist Greg Turner, this cave was also historically known to shelter the federally endangered Indiana bat. Cave-dwelling bats’ numbers have been decimated by the deadly fungal disease white-nose syndrome, so conservationists are interested in protecting the habitat for the bats.

“We have recently documented that bats that have survived WNS are seeking colder sites to hibernate, as these colder temperatures help them preserve their fat reserves longer and not be exhausted by the disease before winter ends,” Turner said in a statement. “The Indiana, tri-colored and little brown bat species are all declining due to this disease, so improving access to and conditions within this cave are critical.”

Future restoration efforts include removing the door to the cave and implementing other measures to regulate airflow, temperatures and humidity. These efforts will provide more favorable environmental conditions now sought by syndrome survivors.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also said the cave is within a breeding and feeding zone of two existing Indiana bat refuge areas, further validating that the cave and surrounding natural area are essential for bat-conservation efforts. After restoration concludes, scientists predict that several other nearby bat populations that forage along Spruce Creek could use this cave.

“We are very glad to be able to protect this beautiful property that now will provide public fishing access along Spruce Creek — such an extraordinary trout fishing stream — and also will provide habitat for native bats given their dramatic decreases in population in recent years,” said Thomas Saunders, conservancy president and CEO in a statement.

Saunders also said the conservancy’s conservation and funding partners were vital in helping to protect this special area that will soon be state public land.

The Fish and Boat Commission is looking forward to taking over the property.

“We are very excited to be able to work with WPC and a variety of conservation partners to acquire this property,” said John Arway, PFBC executive director in a statement. “Spruce Creek sustains a Class A wild brown trout fishery, which attracts anglers from all over the world. We are grateful to be in the position to take ownership of the property and manage it to benefit natural resource conservation and public recreation.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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