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Cave conversion complete

It has been two full years since the last group of visitors toured Indian Caverns in Franklin Township in late 2016 and in that time period, extensive work has been completed to transition the once commercial cave into a restored bat habitat designed to combat the ravages of White Nose Syndrome (WNS).

Game commission biologists visited the site Monday as part of a state-wide bat population count to track the number and species of the bats hibernating in the cavern.

“There were three openings to the cave prior to it being commercialized and all three of those were sealed. One was the sinkhole opening which was sealed with a concrete wall and two had a building built in front of them to control access,” said Greg Turner, state mammalogist for the Game Commission. “We dug open the sinkhole and placed a four foot diameter pipe in there and gated the outside portion of that. The building was razed and openings that were there were opened back up to the natural size and bat-friendly gates were placed on there.”

The location is unique in that it is the first commercial cave in the state to be returned to its “wild” state. The cave had been actively explored by Native Americans and early colonists, and opened as a part of a roadside attraction in the late 1920s.

“We are already seeing bats starting to use it, which is good. When we purchased the cave, we went in and did a survey and put the data loggers in,” Turner said. “There were two bats in there at that time — one tricolor and one little brown.”

Indian Caverns joined other locations in Pennsylvania as a “cold site” where bats can hibernate in lower temperatures to help them combat the affects of WNS, a fungal disease.

“The fungus, even thought it is a cold-loving fungus, has its maximum growth rate at 50-55 degrees. So, when we get down to about 40 degrees, it is about 25 percent of its maximum growth. As it gets to freezing, the growth is close to zero. The colder it is, the slower the fungus grows and, theoretically, the lower the infection load the bats will have,” he said. “We know White Nose Syndrome causes bats to come out of hibernation about twice as often as they should and that causes them to burn through their fat supply in the middle of winter instead of the end of winter. Now, if they have less infection, they should be saving energy because they are at a colder temperature and coming out of hibernation less. They will be saving energy. Hopefully, that will give them a leg up on surviving.”

By reopening the natural entrances to the cavern, while adding gates to prevent unwanted disturbances, the temperature within Indian Caverns dropped with the onset of cold weather.

“The temperature in the cavern had been the ground temperature of Pennsylvania because it was all closed up, so it was 53 degrees,” said Turner. “Today, it was 36 degrees in the upper room and 41 in the second level down, so that probably happened as soon as the cold weather happened. Now, we just need to get the cold air to slowly settle into the bottom. Because this site slopes downhill from the entrance, it will continually cool for the next several years.”

Biologists quietly walked through the underground passages, using flashlights to search the ceilings, walls and crevices for hibernating bats. When one was discovered, the location and species were documented, as was the temperature of the hibernation site.

“We’ve gone from two bats to 10 and from two species to four species. We counted big brown bats, one small-footed bat, which is on the state’s threatened species list, a tricolor bat and some little brown bats,” he said. “Considering that we didn’t open the cave up and do the work until most of the bats were already hibernating, that’s a big jump. Some of them may have come in late in November.”

The increasing numbers look promising and hopes are for even better population counts in the future.

“Any little step forward is a good step forward for the bats. We hope others will start to find the site and the numbers will grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve increased the number of bats, it may just mean that the bats that have survived White Nose Syndrome have found the site,” Turner said. “Recovery would mean juveniles moving in and surviving at the site. That would mean the population is recovering and going up. That’s my hope — that once the adults find the site, they’ll show the juveniles and eventually we’ll see stabilization and recovery of the population with a few of these cold sites spread across the state.”

Coordinator plans new programs

The Huntingdon County Library has welcomed Shelley Merrell of Huntingdon to its staff as youth services coordinator.

Merrell is enthusiastic in her mission of sustaining and organizing programs to engage youngsters and get them involved in a wide variety of activities at the local library.

“I think our library has changed quite a bit over the years,” Merrell said. “It’s really an interactive space where there are building materials and play areas for kids.”

Quite corners and nooks for reading are ever-present, but the library also offers programs which promote active minds and active bodies.

“We have ways for kids to do hide and seek searches in the library,” she said. “It’s a space where they can come and have a good time and learn about the great books we have there.”

Programs gearing up in February include the return of the Preschool Story Time and Toddler Time programs. Toddler Time will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays and Preschool Story Time will continue to be offered at 10:30 a.m. Mondays.

A new activity to be added to the roster is “After-School Artists,” an art club to be held from 6-7 p.m. the third Thursday of each month.

“It will run while Art Walk Huntingdon is going on,” said Merrell. “It will be for school-age kids, kindergarten through fifth grade.”

The ever-popular Lego Club will also continue, but will convert to a once-a-month schedule.

“I think the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs that have gone on in the past have been pretty enjoyable and I think the art club will be something kids will like to do. It’s something different that hasn’t been offered before. I thought it would be nice to have the kids come down to participate.”

All events at the library are listed on the website at

“We’re already thinking ahead to the summer reading program, which will be ‘A Universe of Stories,’ with lots of STEM projects,” she said. “We’re planning to do an event with the Isett Community Swimming Pool and a few things with Juniata College as well.”

Pop-Up! Library events will continue to be scheduled in the future.

“It’s really important for kids to know they have this space to learn and grow in the community,” she said. “My goal is to really hear from the kids about what they want to see at the library and facilitate involvement for them.”

Lower-cost solution found to salt shed issue

Rain and wind are washing away Mount Union’s road salt — and dollars — but plans are in order to replace the borough’s storage facility this spring.

Borough manager Adam Miller announced last week that Mount Union is replacing its aged salt shed for $17,000, representing a significant reduction from the project’s original six-figure estimate.

Last March, borough maintenance supervisor Rodney Fleck reported the structure was losing around 10 tons of salt per season due to breaches in the structure. The two-bay shed was put up decades ago using available materials including telephone poles and plywood and is supported by concrete skirting. Each bay holds 100 tons of salt.

Fleck advised council during his March 2018 report that the structure “is past its life expectancy.”

Close to a year later, the shed’s northern wall is bowed and a cable secures its support beams. Rain and runoff from melting snow and ice pool at the bay openings at the foot the borough’s salt supply.

After getting together with Fleck to revise the borough’s approach to the problem, Miller told council Wednesday night the matter has been resolved via local businesses and the borough’s own workforce.

“The new building is going to 30-by-48 feet which is bigger than what we’ve got now,” Miller said during a visit to Mount Union’s maintenance department headquarters located off the northernmost point of Franklin Street. “We’re using a concrete pad and No. 1 block that comes in 6-foot sections for the walls. The new shed roof will be made of a fabric, with an anti-corrosion coating, that’s designed to project road salt supplies.”

The concrete pad is going to be coated to project against corrosion, as well, Miller added.

“This new shed is designed to last a long time,” he said.

The materials will arrive around April 1 and will take approximately two days to assemble. In the meantime, Fleck and crew will select a location and once the weather permits, will get to work on the concrete pad. The existing shed will remain standing until the new structure is complete, to keep the salt supply under roof.

The project’s cost excludes it from the state borough code’s requirement for formal bidding procedures. Projects $20,500 and higher must be put out to bid while projects ranging in cost from $11,100 to $20,600 require written or telephone quotes. There are no such requirements for projects under $11,100.

The original plan was construction of a shed with eight-foot paved walls at an estimated cost of $45,000 per bay — two for salt and one for the borough’s anti-skid supply which currently sits out in the open — for a total of $135,000. The revised plan represents a $118,000 cost reduction.

Mount Union officials believe it’s time to update some of the borough’s parking fines and decided to impose a fee for peddlers.

By unanimous vote, council imposed a $100 fee for the borough’s peddler permit, on a recommendation from Miller who reported Mount Union hasn’t been charging for the permit. He said he felt a fee was appropriate because, according to borough code, each applicant has to be vetted through a background check before the permit is issued.

“We just can’t do that for free,” he said, noting such investigation takes time.

The motion to impose the fee was made by Mary Hancock and seconded by Wayne Querry.

As for parking fees, Miller said he will present a list of recommended changes for council to consider at their March 6 meeting.

“Some of the fees are reasonable, some are not,” he said. At present, the borough’s fine for parking over the time limit is $5, which council members agreed does not do enough to deter violators.

“Some of these are the same as what they were 20 years ago,” Miller said, referring to his time as a borough police officer.

In other business during Wednesday’s meeting:

— Miller said he’d like to look into consolidating some of the borough’s accounts, noting they are spread out over a number of local banks.

“Some of these are not advantageous with interest rates,” he said. Council okayed Miller to look into the matter. He said he will represent options for council to consider at the March meeting.

— Council approved Heather Brindle to serve as an alternate member of the borough’s zoning hearing board. Brindle, a 30-year Mount Union resident, submitted a letter expressing her interest in the position. The motion to approve Brindle was made by Gary Kuklo, seconded by Nancy Lynn and received full council support.

— Alec Brindle, speaking as vice president of the Mount Union Fire Department, thanked the borough for lending a hand with snow and ice removal around the fire station.

“Our skid loader broke and the borough is helping us out until we get it up and running,” he said, explaining Mount Union’s workers are making sure the department’s fire apparatus and ambulances have a clear path in and out of the property.

Rebecca can be reached at

Winter activities help beat cabin fever

The term cabin fever is used quite frequently during the colder months of the year, because many feel as though the colder weather inhibits their ability to leave their homes. Huntingdon County has a wide array of activities to help combat the seasonal plight.

“Remember when you were a kid and the snow never phased you, you were eager to get out and play in it? So there’s hiking, or you can find a local hill to sled ride on which are fun winter activities,” said Matt Price, executive director of Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau.

Ed Stoddard, marketing director of the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, said there are many places to go and sights to take in to tame the restlessness.

“Escape your cabin fever and visit some Raystown Lake overlooks such as the deck at the Raystown Lake Visitor Center, Coffee Run Overlook or Entriken Overlook. You can hike or bike to the overlooks on the Terrace Mountain Trail, Allegrippis Trails and Old Loggers Trail,” said Stoddard. “The Thousand Steps section of the Standing Stone Trail is a great workout on a historic footpath. The views are awesome. You might choose to stroll the Lower Trail and Huntingdon & Broad Top Rail Trail.”

Even though winter may hinder motorized traffic, according to Price, the popular overlooks are still open to foot traffic.

“You’ll find some of the popular views like Ridenour or Hawn’s Overlook, the Army Corps has them gated, so they’re closed off to vehicle traffic, but you’re still more than welcome to hike, cross country ski or snow show in. The gate just means that motorized vehicles can’t pass, it doesn’t mean people can’t,” said Price.

“The Raystown Lake Visitors Center is open year round for those views. As long as it’s not icy, you can still hike the Thousand Steps to get to the top of Jack’s Mountain and see the view of Jack’s Narrows and Mapleton,” said Price. “One of the other popular views of the area is the Jo Hays Vista on the top of Pine Grove Mountain on Route 26, which actually looks out over State College and the upper Spruce Creek Valley.”

Maybe a subterranean excursion is more on some folks radar, as caves remain the same temperature throughout the year. Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks do winter tours by appointment.

If there are kids in tow, Price suggests visitor centers are fun and interactive ways to break up the boredom for all ages.

“You can get out and enjoy Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, which is a great one for kids. Even if you don’t want to get out and do the outdoor recreation, the visitor center at Greenwood Furnace State Park has some neat stuff to explore, as does the visitor center at Raystown Lake,” said Price.

If history might help suppress the seasonal jitters, one might consider a stop by the Isett Heritage Museum on Stone Creek Ridge.

“Mel Isett just turned 97 years young Feb. 1. He has collected 40,000 items and displays them organized by historic era and theme at Isett Heritage Museum on Stone Creek Ridge, Huntingdon,” said Stoddard.

The past few years have had an explosion of art and artsy things, and the folks at the visitors bureau believe the art scene is a great way to escape.

“You can also immerse yourself in art. The A.C. Darby Studios in Huntingdon, and the Inspire Art Studios in Mount Union both offer a variety of instructional classes in art. You can also visit the gallery at Juniata College’s Museum of Art. You can also stop by Stone Town Gallery and Cafe or see what ever show is being presented at the Art Space for the Huntingdon County Arts Council,” said Price.

A downtown Huntingdon staple every month is the Art Walk series, which is an excellent way to enjoy some fresh air and see folks in the community.

“Art Walk Huntingdon is the third Thursday of each month. Places on the Art Walk include art spaces, performance venues, arts-related retail locations, and restaurants. It provides an opportunity to explore Huntingdon and appreciate its growing arts scene. Meet up with friends, see something new, join in an art project, and enjoy this unique place in Pennsylvania. The next Art Walk Huntingdon is Thursday, Feb. 21,” said Stoddard.

Some may just need to go out and shop, or to go on a date to break away from the winter blues. Huntingdon County has many great places to get away from it all.

“This is a great time of year to get out to area restaurants and shops. Some of them are pretty busy in the summer when we have a lot more visitors in the area, and this is nice time of year to get out for the locals,” said Price.

“From diners to martini bars, the Raystown Lake Region has many cozy options for a special ‘celebration of spring’ dinner. The Clifton 5 Theater in historic downtown Huntingdon is a great place for a date or to take in a movie with friends,” said Stoddard.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)  

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (87) and Philadelphia Flyers’ Travis Sanheim (6) battle for the puck during the first period of a game on Monday, in Philadelphia.

Storm causes travel issues

County residents who had to venture out this morning braved treacherous road conditions, as sleet and freezing rain greeted them on their morning commute.

The storm system that brought 4-5 inches of snow, plus sleet and freezing and rain, prompted the cancellation of schools and other events today, and the National Weather Service has the county under a winter storm warning until 6 p.m. this evening.

David Martin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service said sleet and freezing rain will continue in waves through late this evening, and the storm brought what forecasters were expecting.

“We did trim (snowfall totals) up, but we got a fair amount of snow between Sunday night and right now,” he said. “I would say most areas got around 4-5 inches of snow, especially in the southern part of the state. By mid-evening, the system will be east of the area, and the winds will shift to the west and it will slowly cool, but temperatures may go up before it cools off again before sunrise (Wednesday).”

Martin added that it took longer than expected for the snow to change to sleet and freezing rain overnight.

Wednesday will be partly sunny with highs in the mid-30s and windy conditions, said Martin, but there will be a slight warmup in the forecast for late week.

“Thursday will be in the 40s with quite a bit of sun,” she said. “There may be some rain Friday, but there’s nothing that looks like there will be a winter storm right now.”

Temperatures are expected to be in the mid- to upper 30s for the weekend with mostly dry conditions.

“We could have a snow flurry or two, but it will be pretty much a dry weekend,” said Martin.

This wet, stormy pattern the county has seen is kind of a continuation of a pattern that’s been around for awhile, said Martin, and he doesn’t see it ending anytime soon.

“It’s a stormy pattern for the whole country,” he said. “It’s kind of been going on since last year, and at least for the next two weeks, I don’t see a lot of change. There may be a change on where it’s at, but overall, it’s been a wet, active pattern for the country.”

Martin also explained the wet, stormy pattern.

“There seems to be a strong jet stream going across the Pacific Ocean right, so along with the moisture across the Pacific, you have a lot of things you need to bring everything together for an active weather pattern,” he said.

Reports from the Huntingdon County Emergency Management Agency indicate there have been no reports of power outages, and the emergency management coordinator from Juniata Township reported a rock slide that has blocked a portion of Point Road, and municipal officials are taking steps to sign a municipal declaration of disaster emergency, which will allow township supervisors to immediately approve a contractor to clean up debris.

Additionally, the Huntingdon County Commissioners have also signed a county declaration of disaster emergency, as a precaution, according to EMA officials.