Mammoth Cave services resume following three-day shutdown

Mammoth Cave National Park has remains closed due to the recent government shutdown. 

Olivia Eiler

Mammoth Cave is returning to normal operations following the United States Senate passage of a temporary national spending bill.

The cave’s reopening was announced on its Facebook page on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

All nonessential personnel were furloughed after the Senate missed the midnight deadline to pass the bill on Friday, Jan. 19, and the government shut down. Visitor center access, ferry rides, cave tours, restroom access, trash collection, facilities and road maintenance were suspended.


Unlike the 2013 shutdown, visitors could still access the park’s roads and trails.

“By keeping them open, there’s a certain amount of risk in there,” said Chris Groves, professor of hydrogeology. “People can’t go in the cave without guides, but they can go hiking. There are some pretty remote places in Mammoth Cave National Park. There really is not much of an infrastructure if somebody falls and breaks a leg.”

Mammoth Cave officials shared concern on Facebook for visitor safety during the government shutdown.

“Park visitors are advised to use extreme caution if choosing to enter [National Park Service]  property, as NPS personnel will not be available to provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response,” read the Facebook status, posted on Jan. 20.

Pat Kambesis, an instructor of geography at WKU, highlighted the educational importance of Mammoth Cave.

“Though there are many other caves in the area, none of them contain all of the natural, historical and archaeological features in easily accessible locations for students and the general public,” Kambesis said.

Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world, developed on five levels, and contains unique underground ecosystems. The cave features civil war signatures, saltpeter mining works and evidence of Native Americans from 5,000 years ago.

The 2018 federal shutdown was not the first to impact the cave.

In 1996, Groves served as an expedition leader for the Cave Research Foundation. The foundation worked to continue exploration and mapping of the caves within Mammoth Cave National Park.

The 1996 shutdown prevented Groves’ team from entering the park.

“We had to, at the last minute, find other objectives in caves outside of the park,” Groves said. “One of these was Diamond Caverns, a tourist cave outside of the park near Park City. To [the team’s] surprise they made significant discovery of new, unexplored passages that led to a new, previously unknown area of the cave, which was a nice surprise that probably would not have happened otherwise.”

News reporter Olivia Eiler can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow Olivia on Twitter at @oliviaeiler16.