Nature Park of Ballıca Cave
Ballıca Cave Nature Park is located in the Pazar District borders 23 km southwest of Tokat City Center. The Park is on Akdağ. Akdağ is a mountain in the city of Tokat at the Central Black Sea Region with an elevation of 1916 meters. Its main rock is comprised mostly of Paleozoic rocks. Akdağ located in the northern section of the Alpine fold system was widely etched during the Miocene period. Thus, the base emerged comprised of Paleozoic metamorphic series. Marble, crystallized limestone, aged limestone, sandstone, pebble stone, meta-basic rocks are observed to be scattered in these metamorphics (Tokat Massive). Karstic structures have developed at the distribution areas of limestones at Akdağ the main area that makes up the Ballıca Nature Park is comprised of these structures. Ballıca Cave located at the Pazar District of Tokat, Ballıca Rocks and the surrounding travertine formations attract attention among these structures.
Ballıca Cave is the most unique structure of the park. The cave is made up of karstic crystal lime stones that cover the metamorphic schists. The cave is developed not on a karstic belt but among single-local karstic blocks. These blocks are surrounded by schists. Hence, the areas where limestone surfaces are limited. However, its cave volume is quite large despite the limited surface. It has a length of 680m and covers an area of about 6.500m2 which is an indication of high karstification.
Crystalline limestones are white, beige and faded grey in color. They are subject to extensive karstification and the fractures that result in karstification are generally perpendicular which enable the rainwater to penetrate deeper. The cave is comprised of two main galleries, shaped by seismic movements and the karstification period, as well as many galleries and vault system. The Ballıca cave that has been under formation since the Pliocene has shapes with polycyclic development characteristics. There are various speleothems from the entrance until the end of the cave. Of these, stalactites (curtains, dripstones, pasta shaped, parachute-shaped, onion-shaped and leek-shaped), stalagmites, columns, pools and cave pearls are among the most important. The chambers are mostly cut along the tectonic lines and hence they either suddenly change direction or their levels decrease over time.
The cave entrance is located at an elevation of 1085meters. The first gallery lies along the NE-SW direction, while the Second Gallery lies along NEW-SE. Both galleries have different characteristics. The first Gallery displays irregular morphology related to tectonic activity while the Second Gallery displays a slowly decreasing structural level. The cave was formed in three different periods and has five floors. The first gallery has two floors. Floors III and IV were formed during the second development stage of the cave. Whereas the third development stage is currently ongoing and the 5th floor (New Hall) is being formed.
The first gallery consists of 3 main halls connected in order. Great Stalactites Hall, Fossil Hall, and Bats Hall. Muddy Hall which can be accessed from the Great Stalactites Hall via a vertical pass is also located in the First Gallery. The Fossil hall in the middle is the first floor of the Cave. It is +19 m higher than the entrance and is the first section of the cave that was formed. It has completed its hydrological activity and fossilized. The base of the Fossil Hall is comprised of blocks and fossilized soil which makes up the characteristic features of the First Gallery. Great Stalactites Hall and Bat Halls make up the second floor of the Cave. They are located at elevations of -21 and -24 in reference to the entrance. All varieties of dripstone (stalactite, stalagmite, column, wall and cover dripstones, cave flowers and dripstone pools) are located in these second-floor halls. The floors of dripstone pools are covered with cave pearls. Stalactites and stalagmites have reached huge sizes at the Great Stalactites hall; they are 18 meter in height and 8 meter in diameter. The dripstones in the Bat hall are still in formation stage. The cracks and fractured columns in these halls are indications that the cave has been subject to seismic activity after acquiring its current form. There are blocks, stalactites, and small pools in the Muddy Hall which can be accessed by way of a vertical pass from the Stalactites Hall.
There is an 11 meter steep well that connects the Great Stalactites Hall to the Second Gallery of the cave from the southwestern side. This well provides access to the Deposit Hall located at the transition from the First to the Second Gallery while it also opens up to the Blocked Vault. The walls of the Deposit Hall which is also a transition between the galleries are covered completely with speleothems. There are large blocks on the base, with large “mushroom dripstones” on the ceiling and the left wall. These dripstones are actually “onion stalactites” that have fossilized and reached giant sizes. The calcite accumulation trace that continues along as a horizontal line on the cave walls and the stalactites in this hall indicates the level that the groundwater has reached in this hall for some time. Well shaped 8 and 17 meter steep descents have formed among large blocks. This hall is also the 3rd floor of the Cave. Its surface level is at an elevation of -35 m from the cave entrance. The Karstic formations at the Second Gallery under this level are younger.
As we pass from the Columns Hall from the Sunken Hall, we can see that the columns here are much taller than others and exceed 15 meters. The Mushroom Hall and New Hall are located after the Columns Hall. The Mushroom Hall at an elevation of -44 meters from the cave entrance is covered richly with dripstones. There is a long drip stone pool along the western side of the hall with water accumulation. There are sporadic mushroom rocks and stalactites above the pool. The Mushroom Hall opens up to the Uçurumlu Vault covered with blocks. The randomly distributed irregular blocks make it difficult to examine the vault sections of the cave. Various vaults are still being studied and it seems that these studies will continue for many years. The stalactites and stalagmites in the Uçurumlu Vault are darker in color due to the presence of manganese. Uçurumlu Vault is also connected to the Bloklu Vault and various halls of the First Gallery.
With regard to its karstic features, Yeni Hall is the most interesting section of the Ballıca Cave. Yeni Hall located distinctively below the Sütunlar Hall makes up the youngest section of the Ballıca Cave. This hall is located at an elevation of -54 meters from the cave entrance and in addition to karstic structures that are not observed in other halls of the cave, there are also large dripstones (stalactites with no stalagmites) with heights reaching 6,5 meters and leek shaped stalactites are observed in this hall. The most interesting speleothems of the hall are the onion stalactites. These have various dimensions ranging from a few centimeters to 50 cm in diameter. There is a steep well at the western edge of the Yeni Hall. (-75m) This karstic well makes up the youngest and deepest section of the cave with a 2 meters deep pond at its base.
As indicated by these explanations, karstic topography and the presence of CO3 rich water are important factors with regard to the cave formation. Ballıca cave is completely dry save for the water accumulations at the small drip stone ponds at the lowest levels. The depths of these drip stone ponds vary between 20-60 cm. The deep well located at the western edge of the Yeni Hall is the wateriest section of the cave. This well is topographically located just below İndere Creek. İndere, located 50 m southwest of the cave is the source of the ground waters that feed the cave. Moreover, the dissolution funnels and karsts at İndere provide surface water drainage as well. In addition to the karsts, the limestone blocks that make up Akdağ have also made the development of an intensive karstic deposit possible.
The impacts of water in the cave provide significant data on the development stages of the cave. The line drawn by the calcite accumulations due to groundwater can be tracked to 3 meters from the base of the Çöküntü Hall. This level is proof of the presence of an old groundwater level. The absolute height of this level was 1053 meters which has decreased down to 1.010 meters today. The formation levels of the travertines that have formed on the cave surface are also indications of the level of water flowing outside the cave. The highest elevation of the surface travertines is 1120 meters. The current groundwater level of 1010 meters indicates that the groundwater level has decreased at least by 110 meters between the oldest preserved travertine and the current accumulation. Moreover, shallow ponds with slow flow have enabled the development of large stalactites with no stalagmites due to the draining of surface water.
The main development of this cave that has been forming since the Pliocene dates back to about 3,4 million years. The formation that started during the humid and cold period now continues at the Yeni Hall and the well that is at an elevation of -75m from the entrance. There is no river in the cave except this well. The other parts of the cave extend completely out in the vadose zone. On the other hand, stalactite and stalagmite formations are ongoing in other halls of the cave.
There are also travertine deposits formed by old karstic sources in addition to the cave, swallow holes, dissolution funnel, karst pit and dolines in the park. They are frequently encountered in the village of Ballıca which is very close to the park. Moreover, there is also a thick travertine cover in front of the Kömüşgölü Spring located east of the Ballıca Cave. The stream formed by the spring forms a waterfall over these travertines. Another karstic structure of the park is the karstic hill to the south of Ballıca Cave known due to its colors as “Ballıkaya”. The hill attracts attention with its natural landscape beauty.
The park has a continental ecosystem. The forest and scrub ecosystems (green cover) of the park supports the CO2 enrichment of the rainwater seeping further down from the karstic structure. The park is located in the Auxin Zone of the Euro-Siberian Phytogeographic Region. A total of 98 species from 33 families have been detected in flora studies carried out in the region. A total of 77 algae species have been determined inside the cave.
The fauna in the park has 3 different amphibian species. Bufo bufo (Common Toad) included in Annex III of the Bern Treaty and Bufo Viridis (Green Toad)included in Annex II of the Bern Treaty and Hyle Arborea (Common Tree Frog) are the determined species. Six different reptiles were also determined in the park. Elaphe quatuorlineta (Four-Lined Snake), Lacerta viridis (Green Lizard), Testudo graeca (Greek tortoise) included in Annex II of the Bern Treaty and Anguis fragilis (Slow Worm), Lacerta saxicolat (Armenian Lizard) and Typlops vermicularis (Blind Snake) included in Annex III of the Bern Treaty were determined. Significant numbers of common dwarf bat population are present inside the cave.
İndere Creek which is the main water source for the Ballıca Cave and drains Akdağ in which the park is located reaches all the way to the Kaz Lake which is a Wetland of significant importance according to Ramsar Convention criteria. This lake ecosystem fed by Indere Creek along with the forest habitats of the Ballıca Cave Nature Park make up a complete set of ecosystems that complement each other with regard to the feeding and reproduction of mammal species. The region is also rich in terms of bird species due to its proximity to the Kaz Lake wetland ecosystem. It was observed that 74 different bird species reside or pass through the park.
The Nature Park Cave has unique doline, karst, rock etc. formations as well as various karstic forms. Especially the Ballıca cave provides geological and geomorphologic richness with its unique onion stalactites, well-developed curtain travertines, settling ponds and column structures. The park’s own ecosystem has a sustainable, strong cycle and well-established relationships with its surrounding ecosystems.