History of the Refuge
Sauta Cave is not pristine. As early as
1784, cave soil was being mined by a Cherokee to make saltpeter, an ingredient
in black powder. The mining continued on and off from the War of 1812
through the Civil War to World War I. Examples of disturbances at or
inside the cave historically, due to saltpeter creation include mines,
a wooden railroad, and large iron kettles. Portions of the railroad and
the mining tunnels, now called “The Catacombs,” still exist.
A building near the cave was also used as a fishing store and nightclub
from 1919 to 1956. A dance area was placed adjacent to the lower entrance
to take advantage of the cool wind exiting the cave. The cave was prepared
as a fallout shelter by a local National Guard unit in 1962. The owner
prior to acquisition by the Service planned to commercialize the cave
by having tourists walk and boat through and learn its history.
In 1978, the Service acquired this property for the protection of the endangered Indiana and gray bats. Management over the years has included restricting access to the cave during critical periods in order to minimize disturbance to roosting bats.
Today, rare and unique species occur in Sauta Cave. The Alabama Natural Heritage Program (ANHP) listed the biodiviersity rank of the cave as B1, a site of very high significance. In addition to gray and Indiana bats, many other bat species are present. Cave Salamanders, unique invertebrates, and other rare animals inhabit the cave. Outside the cave, the Refuge is forested with a mixed oak-hickory forest type and the usual complement of species that occur in this habitat type such as squirrels, birds, and deer are abundant. In addition to the rare fauna within the cave, a federally threatened Price's potato bean (Apios priceana) occurs in isolated places on the Refuge.