Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave: Explorers Make Incredible Discovery of 8 More Miles of Passageways

by Leanne Stahulak

The longest cave system in the world continues to grow, with an additional eight miles of passageways discovered recently in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.

The National Park Service (NPS) released an announcement last week with the news. Per the press release, members of the Cave Research Foundation (CRF) “mapped and documented” the additional miles of passageways. The added eight miles brings the cave’s grand total to 420 miles long.

These CRF members reportedly “spend hours crawling, climbing and rappelling through cave passageways, following leads through sometimes very tight openings to document and map” new additions to Mammoth Cave.

The national park also shared the news on Facebook, mentioning how “When it comes to discoveries in Mammoth Cave, there truly is no end in sight!”

According to The Daily Mail, Mammoth Cave is 10 million years old. Pioneers first discovered it in the late 1790s, though humans started using it at least 5,0000 years ago.

Per the NPS press release, the cave became the longest cave system in the world in 1969. It contained 65 miles of passageways at the time. Then, CRF cavers discovered a connection between Mammoth Cave and the Flint Ridge System in 1972. This brought the grand total to 144 miles. Since then, the non-profit organization has continued to make discoveries linking the 10-million-year-old structure to others, extending it to 420 miles long.

Without the 60-year-old CRF, Mammoth Cave and several others wouldn’t be as thoroughly explored and documented as they are.

“The Cave Research Foundation is fundamentally the reason that Mammoth Cave is recognized as the world’s longest cave,” said Dr. Rick Toomey, the park’s Cave Resource Management Specialist. “Without CRF exploration and mapping, Mammoth Cave would potentially still be a 44-mile-long cave system.”

What has the CRF Done for Mammoth Cave?

Exploring, mapping, and documenting a cave is no easy feat. CRF Eastern Operations Manager Karen Willmes makes sure to remind people of that in the NPS statement.

“Every mile of cave length means that a CRF or Central Kentucky Karst Coalition caver physically visited and surveyed that part of the cave,” Willmes shared. “Many of the cave trips are long and arduous, involving climbing, vertical exposure, squeezes, crawlways, water, and mud. After the trip, cartographers turn the data collected on the cave trip into a map. Other volunteers provide surface support. It’s a first-rate effort for a world-class cave, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

And all of it done on unpaid volunteer time, too. The Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent, Barclay Trimble, thanked them for their efforts to fully understand the massive cave system.

“Volunteers, like the members of the CRF, provide an invaluable service to parks across the nation,” Trimble said. “Their assistance through valued partnerships provides parks like ours access to services, expertise, and resources that might not otherwise be available. With the help of the CRF, we are better able to understand the dynamic environments inside the cave and provide our visitors with an improved experience to their national park.”