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Land buy to protect state caves

– Nearly 250 acres has been added to the Hoosier National Forest that officials say will help protect southern Indiana’s Lost River cave system.

The Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy has controlled much of the site near the Orange County town of Paoli for more than a decade.

The newly acquired land will be designated as a special area of the forest in the region 40 miles south of Bloomington, Forest Service spokeswoman Judi Perez told the Herald-Times.

Officials say the land has an important role in providing clean water for the Lost River, which runs underground through a 20-mile-long cave system that’s home to blind cavefish, cave invertebrates and bats.

Federal officials in 2012 approved spending $546,000 to buy the land, which is just east of the Wesley Chapel Gulf Area.

The site is partly wooded and could be opened for hunting and hiking.

The Wesley gulf was formed by the collapse of sinkholes into the underground course of the Lost River. The Nature Conservancy acquired much of the property from a family in 2001 with the intention of transferring it to the Hoosier National Forest.

“This was a piece of land that was just too good to miss getting into public ownership,” said Mary McConnell, the group’s state director.