WAUZEKA, Wis. (WKBT) - During the past few years a deadly fungus has raced through cave-dwelling bat populations.
White nose syndrome has become such a concern that the Mississippi Valley Conservancy decided to buy the Kickapoo Indian Caverns in Crawford County to protect bat habitat.
Now the historic site has some unexpected cave dwellers that have taken up residence.
The Mississippi Valley Conservancy felt it was important to become the Caverns new owners, only to find out squatters of a religious sect were apparently claiming it for their own.
The MVC's Executive Director Carol Abrahamzon and conservationist Abbie Church, headed to the Kickapoo Indian Cavern Thursday with a Crawford County official for protection.
"They've clearly renamed the property, it's no longer Kickapoo Indian Caverns according to them," Abrahamzon said.
Eight days ago two people, 36-year-old Elizabeth Perry Rydz and 20-year-old Brandon Wantroba of Milwaukee were arrested for burglary at the Cavern gift shop, but the suspects seemed to be doing more than just stealing.
"Basically squatting and wanting to take it over and they renamed it as we saw walking up the hill here it was called silent grove," according to Lieutenant Ryan Fradette of the Crawford County Sheriff's Department. Fradette escorted MVC officials to the site so they could check the condition of the property they are expecting to purchase.
But Abrahamzon said, "We were very surprised to find out that there apparently have been squatters that have broken into the building that leads to the entrance of the cave. They have been staying there and had planned on taking it over via adverse possession."
Adverse possession is by definition, "the occupation of land to which another person has title with the intention of possessing it as one's own."
And the Conservancy is worried the squatters may have done more than just damage the gift shop.
Lieutenant Fradette pointed out as he walked through the cave, "We thought the stalagmites and stalactites... there looked like some were damaged or had been broken off ."
This historic site was once used by Wisconsin's Native tribes and the conservancy hopes the only cave dwellers there will be the bats.
Abrahamzon said they still want to acquire the property. "To be able to protect the bats give them a place to spend their winters, but also because the property itself is beautiful. It's 83 acres."
The two suspects are currently out on bond, but are expected in court on Monday.
Since their release, people involved with the cave have received threatening letters from a religious sect called "The United Council of Magna Setera."
It seems to be a group the suspects may be affiliated. And according to the sect's Facebook page, it appears to have roots in sorcery and a fear of another world war.