If you visit the Grand Palace in Lehman Cave, a destination on the 90-minute cave tour, you’ll probably have a chance to peer down into the Sunken Gardens. Aside from being drawn to the pools and fascinating cave formations, your eyes will likely notice a trail continuing on into a canyon-like passage, disappearing from view. You might find yourself asking the ranger, “Where does that trail go?” The trail leads to the Talus Room, but it won’t be around for long. The trail visible from the Grand Palace is only the beginning of an 800-foot section of paved walkway that will be removed as part of an effort to restore an area of Lehman Cave to its natural state.
The modern discovery of Lehman Cave occurred in 1885 when Ab Lehman first lowered himself into the natural entrance. Within a year, the majority of cave passages were known, as evidenced by historic graffiti on cave walls. As a result of early explorations, the cave quickly became a well-known tourist destination. Later discoveries occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, but no new cave passages have been found since that time. Throughout its history, Lehman Cave has been open to visitors. In the early days, visitors often explored the cave on their own, using lanterns to navigate through the total darkness. From the time the National Park Service assumed management of the cave in 1930, park rangers have offered guided tours of the cave.
It is estimated that sometime during the summer of 2007 Lehman Cave received its millionth visitor! In a fragile cave environment, that much visitation creates a major impact. Every time we enter the cave, we leave behind lint, dust, hair, and skin cells, which can be harmful to cave life and cave formations. Yet the most profound impact on the cave has been from development. Over the years the cave has been developed to make it more accessible. Electric lighting was first installed in 1941, with later additions and upgrades. Construction of a paved trail system was initiated by using asphalt, though it was later resurfaced with concrete. In addition to lighting and trails, other materials have been introduced into the cave, and many of them are in a state of deterioration due to the damp environment. It is the deterioration and decomposition of foreign materials that is most harmful to the cave system, with effects on cave life, water quality, mineral growth, and other natural processes.
In order to reduce this kind of impact, park staff are working to remove much of the infrastructure that was added to the areas of the cave known as the Talus Room and the West Room. Though cave tours at one time visited these portions of the cave, the trails were permanently closed in 1981 due to safety concerns. Since that time, the approximately 1200 cubic feet of trail material and 1500 feet of electrical conduit have been in a state of deterioration, potentially causing harm to the cave environment. The goal of the restoration project is to safely remove all these materials that are no longer being used, thus restoring the Talus Room and other areas of Lehman Cave to a condition closer to their natural state. The restoration will start in the summer of 2008 and will be implemented over a 2-year period. This is a great example of the National Park Service working to preserve and protect our natural resources, and the project will ultimately be extremely beneficial to the cave and its permanent residents.
Last updated: February 28, 2015