Thirty one years ago, the world took notice of Mammoth Cave National Park when it was inscribed as a World Heritage site, joining the ranks of the Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Palace of Versailles in France, and the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
On October 12th, staff and park supporters gathered for a photo at the historic entrance to commemorate the park’s 31st World Heritage anniversary and the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.
In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the World Heritage Convention to ensure that properties of outstanding universal value to mankind would be recognized and protected. The original World Heritage List contained twelve sites. When Mammoth Cave was added as a World Heritage Site, the list had grown to 112 sites in 32 countries. Today there are 962 properties in 190 countries.
“Often we are so busy seeing to the needs of visitors that we forget the park’s status and importance as a worldwide treasure,” said Bruce Powell, the park’s acting superintendent. “It is good to recognize anniversaries like this and remind ourselves of the remarkable place that is entrusted to our care.”
Why is Mammoth Cave important to the world?
“It is a geologic time capsule of earth’s ongoing development,” said Powell. “In the cave, you can see things that happened a million years ago and things that happened yesterday.”
“The ancient river sediments in Mammoth Cave’s passageways contain remnants of the earth’s history that washed underground millions of years ago. The shapes and sizes of its passageways are evidence of erosion that formed surface hills, hollows and plains of Kentucky. It is located at the intersection of northern and southern ecosystems, allowing habitat for a vast number of plant and animal species, including ten endangered species.”
Mammoth Cave was inscribed as a World Heritage Site under three of the convention’s criteria:
- To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
- To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features; and
- To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
In April 1980, the Cave Research Foundation submitted Mammoth Cave to the convention as a prospective World Heritage Site; the NPS concurred and also submitted a nomination. Mammoth Cave National Park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site on October 30, 1981.