Mammoth Cave, located in southwestern Kentucky, was officially designated as a national park in 1941. The park is approximately 53,000 acres (small by national park standards); its main focus is the cave system which lies under the surface.
Mam Cave, as it is called locally, is the longest cave known to exist in the world at just under 400 miles. The 400 miles of cavern are not linear, but exist on six levels which crisscross and extend out in multiple directions, fitting inside a seven square mile area under the park.
We took a ranger led tour during our visit, venturing down 250 feet below the surface and then through a series of rooms as we gradually climbed back towards the surface to exit the mine.
The park offers a wide range of tours differing in time and the level of physical activity required to complete the tour. We took the Domes and Drips Tour where you are brought through some of the largest domes in the cave system and also to a wetter area where stalactites and stalagmites are still forming.
The lower two levels of the cave are underground rivers – with water draining down from the Green River and the numerous sinkholes in and around the park. In the past visitors could tour the lower cavern by boat but the practice was stopped to protect the environment.
A brief History of mam cave
As we mentioned above, Mam Cave became a national park in 1941. What we did not realize until we visited the park and spent time touring the scenic backways of the park was how the park came into being.
The caves were originally mined for saltpeter which was used in the making of ammunition.The caves in the area were privately held and operated by the owners as tourist attractions from the early 1800s until the park became a national park.
There were many people in government, science and business who, for various reasons, wanted to see Mam Cave designated as a national park and thus be protected. The federal government would not buy land for the creation of a national park but would accept donated land for that purpose. As a result, a private organization was formed for the purpose of buying the privately owned land and donating the land to the federal government.
Over a period of several years the required amount of land was purchased (in some cases through eminent domain). There was also a land donation of 8,000 acres made by a single family.
The photographs above and below show the only remaining structures from three of the communities (Good Springs, Flint Ridge, Joppa Ridge) that ceased to exist as the residents moved to other towns outside of the park boundary. Some of the families and their descendants lived in theses communities for 200 years before they were displaced.
The park service has preserved these churches and the adjacent graveyards, providing a peak into life in early rural America. All other structures from these communities were razed when the National Park was established.
The families of the descendants are still able to use the churches for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. The cemetaries bear witness to this use as we observed newer monuments in each of the graveyards.
We enjoyed our two days at Mam Cave. The cave tour was well organized and interesting. We would have to say that from a persective of the cave only that Carlsbad (New Mexico) and Wind Cave (South Dakota) are more dramatic from a visual perspective.
Having said that, Mam Cave offers a number of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as a paved bike path. Additionally, the Green River which flows through the park provides the opportunity for kayaking and canoeing.
If you are a national park fan and have not yet visited, we recommend that you include Mam Cave in an upcoming park itinerary.
Be seeing you.