GAYS MILLS - On Saturday, Chasca and I were among the lucky locals to be able to participate in the Mississippi Valley Conservancy’s tour of the Kickapoo Caverns.
Some may have memories of visiting the cave years ago, when it was still called the Kickapoo Indian Caverns.
One of ecologists for the MVC shared that they decided to change the name because it was only called the ‘Kickapoo Indian Caverns’ as a tourist thing, and, had no actual known connection to the Native Americans, so they decided just to go with Kickapoo Caverns.
For those of you who’ve never been, the Kickapoo Caverns are located basically out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Wauzeka and Bridgeport. You travel down a series of windy back roads before you’re met by a small gravel parking area and the new MVC sign informing you you’ve met your destination.
Last year, when the MVC bought the caverns and property they sit under, I had the opportunity to interview the woman whose family had owned it for many years.
She talked about spending the summers running across the property playing amongst the wildflowers and critters and then working in the cave in the winter clearing out the different spaces and pouring the walk way.
I’ve been in a few caves, both show caves and regular ol’ caves, as well as a restaurant in a cave, and the Kickapoo Caverns was still, quite the sight.
It didn’t have the grandiose stalactites and stalagmites - as they were cut off and sold, back in the early days of the caves excavation, reminding me if the images of elephants with their tusks cut off into smooth flat nubs.
It did have all of the wow factor needed for a rather impressive underground stroll. Beautiful drip rock, high ceilings and wide paths and even a large white cross, erected by one of the former owners.
Carol, the daughter of the former owners, and her parents cleared out several rooms during their tenure owning the cave. She recalled hauling wheelbarrows of rock out when she was a little girl.
There were a few different points where the guide noted the cave previously had ended before different levels of excavation was done.
To get to the cave, we had to hike up a very looonnnng hill.
I received several emails leading up to the event, warning me ominously that there would be an “intense” 20-30 minute trek and that “endurance and stamina would be required.”
Now, I would describe myself as having a lot of wonderful qualities, but endurance and stamina aren’t always on that list–especially in the proposed 90-degree heat.
They suggested wearing pants and a long sleeved shirt. However as someone who is so sensitive to the heat that I once passed out just standing waiting my turn to hit a golf ball at a putt-putt, I opted for a tank top and shorts.
We also left our kids in the care of Chasca’s very capable and caring aunt. She seems to enjoy taking on the grandma role for Thatcher and Waylon. Providing ample opportunity for ice cream for breakfast, as well as berry picking and cartoons. Thatcher was overjoyed to be left out of the cave adventure.
Chasca of course is the picture of hiking ability. He wears practical boots and has long legs. So, he just strolled up the hill with ease, consistently pausing to turn around and check to make sure I had not died on the trail.
At last however, we made to the clearing at the top and only had to meander down a slippery stone trail to the cave’s entrance.
The entrance for the cave is in the former gift shop, which is, interestingly, still fairly well stocked. Items like carved walking sticks, incense and polished rocks sit collecting dust.
While we waited to go into the cave, a bat expert from the Wisconsin DNR shared information with us about the studies they have been doing at the cave on the bats that hibernate in there through the late fall and into the winter. The expert shared that the dreaded White Nose Syndrome has been found in all of the major bat-hibernation-caves in Wisconsin–including the Kickapoo Caverns. The MVC has allowed the DNR to use the cavern as kind of a lab or sorts. The scientists have been working on a vaccine for white nose syndrome and so they’ve been testing and studying the population that resided in this cave.
One option they are looking at for administering the vaccine is via a glycerin that the bats will climb across to get into bat houses, from there, when they groom themselves they will ingest the vaccine. She was unable to tell us the final results, as they are still pending publication, but it all sounded very promising.We didn't see any bats during our trip into the Kickapoo Caverns, but it was an interesting and unique visit. And, it’s always a fun opportunity to take a trip into a 52-degree cave on a 90-degree day. It does sound as though the MVC will continue these small group guided trips through the caverns as the years go on, so I highly encourage anyone who likes caves to check it out.