Resilient, Renewed: Maribel Caves

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By Charles Collier, The Denmark News

In August 2013 skies over Maribel brought destruction when two F1 tornadoes barreled eastward into the densely forested Maribel Cherney Caves Park. Nearly 95% of the park’s mature trees were toppled and its towering canopy was largely erased along with picnic and restroom infrastructure.

For four months, loggers worked to clear $75,000 worth of fallen timber, paving the way for new growth on the park’s 78 acres.

Some of the damage is still seen today. (Charles Collier/The News Media)

“The only thing that didn’t get hit was the playground equipment.” Mike Sobusch said while explaining the twisters’ paths.

Sobusch is a member of the Wisconsin Speleological Society (WSS), a non-profit organization which largely maintains the park’s cave and trail systems.

“It’s been amazing to see how much vegetation has come up. It’s been better than I expected,” Sobusch said. “There’s a lot of weeds, too,” he smiled.

That’s no joke, as 15 garbage bags of garlic mustard, an invasive species, recently pulled by area Boy Scouts can attest.

Growth at the Caves has not been exclusive to plant life, as a new pavilion installed last season graces the edge of an expanded parking lot. Tartarus Cave, which in 2005 spanned 42 feet, was in 2014 connected to Split Rock Cave via WSS volunteer-fueled digging efforts and brought to 280 feet of walking and crawling space.

The New Hope Cave features stalagmites—which grow roughly an inch every century—between 4.5 and 5 inches long. Appropriately on October 31, 1991, cavers discovered a dome filled with bats in what is now called the Halloween Room. Now every October, the cave is closed to provide hibernation space for over 200 bats ranging four different species.

Cave tours are guided every third Sunday until October and extensive hiking and bike trails are open from dawn until dusk. Multiple people with multiple jugs hike to the natural fountain to collect spring water.

“We’re constantly improving, always working on the trails, trying to restore and make more caves. This is all for the public to see and enjoy.” Sobusch says. “I think about 80% of Manitowoc County doesn’t know what they have here.”

Admirers of the caves and newcomers alike have ample opportunity to enjoy the park in the best possible way this weekend.

“We’ll have boots and lights in the trailer,” Sobush said of trail and cave work events on June 10 and 11 from roughly 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. These events happen twice every month and extra help can never exceed capacity. Old clothes with long sleeves are recommended.

“Our motto is ‘come when you can, leave when you must,’ but this place is easy to come and spend all day in.”

Though the old trees once loved by all who attended the park no longer shade the way, regeneration has inspired many new visitors. And now, the skies which brought destruction are patrolled by a traditional character of perseverance: the 8 eagles which now reside amongst the caves.

“Before the canopy was too thick and eagles weren’t able to reach the (West Twin) river. Now it’s all open and they’re well-protected.”

Indeed the park is open and because of volunteers from, “too many groups to count,” providing assistance both physical and monetary, Maribel Cherney Caves is very well protected.