ICSR to discuss creation of Mammoth Cave National Park

Brittiny Moore

Next year Mammoth Cave National Park, located a little over 30 miles outside Bowling Green, will celebrate its 200th anniversary since Mammoth Cave tours began and 75 years since it became a national park.

It will also be the topic of the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility’s Tuesday lecture.

The Mammoth Cave area is widely recognized for having the world’s longest known cave system — currently recorded at just over 405 miles — according to Chris Groves, distinguished professor of hydrogeology and the director of the Crawford Hydrology Laboratory.

Less well known is the resident population’s required displacement when Mammoth Cave became a national park.

The national park opened in 1941, Groves said, and according to the National Park Service’s website, Mammoth

Cave National Park was established to protect the area’s underground cave system, rolling hills and Green River valley.

“Since then, ongoing study and exploration have shown the park to be far more complex than ever imagined, hosting a broad diversity of species living in specialized and interconnected ecosystems,” according to the Park Service’s website. “The park’s challenge is to balance these remarkable and sometimes fragile living networks with the public’s enjoyment of them.”

During “National Parks & Resident Peoples: Unintended Consequences,” a discussion hosted by the WKU ICSR, professor of geology Katie Algeo will mediate a conversation on national parks’ creation, social justice issues and the unintended consequences of creating national parks.

“After legislation is passed to create a national park, there’s been a process of making the park a reality,” Algeo said. “For almost every park, that includes some displacement of people — even for the initial parks made out in the western United States.”

Algeo will be highlighting the impact this removal has had on the current white and black resident population.

“We’re going to be looking at what happened to those people as the park was created,” Algeo said. “Where did they go, where did they migrate … and was it a process that had equal consequences for all groups of people?

“We’re talking about the 1930s, and tenancy rates were fairly high in the South. They were at about 30 percent, and … one of the groups of concern are the people who are not home owners or property owners,” she said.

Algeo added that when parks are created, “There’s a compensation process. What that compensation is for is land and houses, and if you’re not a property owner, you don’t get compensation; you still have to move.”

Algeo also spoke of the social impact a national park’s creation has on removed populations, which she will address during the ICSR event:

“People have to find new homes and new jobs, and they face challenges in terms of keeping together as family groups because this is an entire set of communities that were dissolved. If you think about the kind of social relations that are active in communities — whether it’s through churches or less formal groups with neighbors — those social ties are dissolved as people disperse, and that [is] one of the hardships that everyone who moved out of the area faced.”

Algeo will be working with graduate student Collins Eke during the discussion.

Together they will draw from the historical context of Native American populations’ removal from western national parks, including Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park, to discuss parallels with what happened to the Mammoth Cave area’s population.

Residents’ removal from rural national parks has been an issue in almost every national park, Algeo said.

“I think that public land is important, and I think preserving land is important, so I think national parks have value,” Groves said. “It’s not a perfect world, and one of the costs of [preserving land] are the cost of people and communities.”

The discussion will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 20 in Downing Student Union, room 2123, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is a swipeable event free and open to all.

Algeo hopes students will learn Mammoth Cave’s history and consider the creation of national parks from her discussion.

“I hope students learn a bit about the history of Mammoth Cave itself — that is, the human history,” Algeo said. “It’s be this wonderful wilderness area, this wonderful natural area, and not realize this is really a cultural landscape as well as a natural landscape.”