WKU PBS releases Mammoth Cave film

Julia Adams

Seventy-five years ago, one of the most iconic landmarks in Kentucky was established. Many, if not all, Kentuckians may have heard of or visited Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the United States. While many appreciate this landmark, few know of the struggles and trials it took to create the national park.

WKU PBS set out to make a documentary known as Mammoth Cave: A Place Called Home, to educate the nation about the roots of Mammoth Cave and how it came to be. The documentary tells the story of how the national park was created during the Great Depression.

Cheryl Beckley, the director and producer of the documentary, aims to create a better understanding of what it takes to create a national park. In 2009, Beckley began a project, Mammoth Cave: A Way to Wonder, dealing with the discoveries made in Mammoth Cave. The documentary was taken in with both local and national success.

“A very important story was left out, and that was how the park was created,” Beckley said. After realizing this, she began working on a second project titled Mammoth Cave: A Place Called Home in 2014.

The project took 14 months to complete, including planning, research and the delivery of the final product. The documentary showcases how over 600 families were moved to create the national park during the 1920s. The park took almost 20 years to finish.

The film goes over the conflicting emotions that went into the production of the park. While the developers were creating a landmark that would outlive even themselves, they were still pushing hundreds of families out of their homes. Beckley refers to it as “a sacrifice for their benefit.”

Mammoth Cave: A Place Called Home aired for the first time in February of 2016, broadcasting on the local PBS station. On Sept. 2, it will be available nationwide, airing on all PBS stations that choose to pick it up.

Beckley said Mammoth Cave gave the crew “unfettered access” to the cave.

“We couldn’t have done it without their cooperation,” Beckley said. “They are wonderful, wonderful people.”

Beckley was backed by a large student crew, including a former WKU Broadcasting student, Neil Purcell. Purcell worked on the film’s animation using motion graphic design.

“Graphics help create interest in the story and further the feel of the piece,” Purcell explained.

Purcell said he relates to those who enjoy the park today. He believes people will take a greater interest in the park once they know its history.

“Most people assume the land has always been the same,” Purcell said. However, much of the park is made up of new plant growth.

Purcell became intrigued by the idea of the project because of how accessible Mammoth Cave is to the public.

“It goes unrecognized as a national park, so any sort of recognition it can get is awesome,” he said.

For the film, Purcell wanted the graphics to create an “old, antique feel” to match the rest of the documentary.

Beckley and Purcell agree that one of the most important things about the documentary is the historical message behind it. They want people who see it to understand that Mammoth Cave didn’t just spring up overnight as a landmark.

The cave system took decades to become the place it is today. Purcell said the idea that “all good things come with a price” is the highlighted lesson of the documentary.

Reporter Julia Adams can be reached at (270) 996-2106 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaSkyeAdams.