Frequently Asked Questions

About the Park

The archeological record shows one of the longest, continuously used occupation sites in North America.  Meaning that all 4 of the recognized prehistoric time periods are represented in our one site.

Under the 1906 antiquities act, any president may declare a site a National Monument.  John F. Kennedy declared us as such to protect the archeological record found here.

On May 11, 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared Russell Cave a National Monument.

2/10th of a mile, about five minutes to walk. 

The full trail is a 1.2 mile asphalt paved loop.  There is a cutoff trail loop that is a total .2 mile that you will pass along the main trail.

 

Archeological Excavations

Members of the Tennessee Archeological Society began excavations in 1953.  Professional work led by Carl Miller working for the Smithsonian Institute went from 1956-1958 and went over 35 feet into the ground.  Later the NPS would lead a dig 10.5 feet down in 1962 (where the pit is now).

During the excavations, close to 3 tons of artifacts were found.  Findings include: pottery and ceramic pieces, stone points and knives, shells and shell jewelry, animal bones and bone jewelry, and human remains.  Some extra cool finds include: bones from a dog that appears to be domesticated and buried on purpose, and the remains of a woven basket that was never fully recovered.

There are some reproductions of whole tools and pots on display, but all the individual, non-organic pieces are real.

One major reason is that there is limited space to store more artifacts.  We have a good idea what is still there and it doesn’t seem to offer new information from excavating.  Also, by leaving artifacts in their place, we allow future archeologist the chance to study them in their original place.

No, because that side has water almost constantly flowing through it and floods often bring in debris, it would be impossible to tell what artifacts were left on that side and which were washed in.  Meaning they wouldn’t have any value to archeologists.

 

The Cave

Our cave is real, with over 7.5miles of passages mapped that twist along under the mountain.

The shelter opening is 107 feet wide, 26 feet high and curves back 270 feet. 

At this time, only NPS cave scientists are allowed into the cave, and that is very limited.  The public is not allowed into the cave for a few reasons:

  • White Nose Syndrome - this fungus has been found in the cave system and we try limit the spread as much as possible
  • Flooding - Rain events can bring a lot of water, very quickly into the lower entrance.  This makes it dangerous to enter as it is and impossible to build safer pathways into the cave that would last.  This also means that not many formations last very long as fast moving water and debris will knock them down before they are fully formed.
  • Safety - Russell Cave is a wild, living cave system.  Crawling, climbing, squeezing, and sometimes swimming are all required to navigate the cave system.  With constant flooding, there is no guarantee of stable floors or ceilings.
  • Archeological Site - We are first and foremost an archeological site for a prehistoric shelter.  Our mission is to discuss the archeology, none of which is found further back in the cave due to flooding. 

The mineral components of limestone are released as the water rushes by, giving it a green/ blue hint.

The water originates as a spring, a few miles to the north of the park on private property.  From there it flows underground along the cove to appear below the boardwalk.  It does flow into the cave, continuing in our system for a couple miles before exiting the cave underground and going towards Widow’s Creek.  This water then feeds into the Tennessee River.

 

Bats

There are actually 8 different species that live on park property.  The Big Brown, Little Brown, Gray Bat, Northern Bat, Tri-colored Bat, and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat all live in the cave.  The Eastern Red Bat and Evening Bat don’t live in caves.

A fungal disease that primarily effects hibernating bats.  It attaches to the bats fur, usually around the nose and disrupts the hibernation cycle of the bats, not allowing them to lower their body temperature and heart rate enough to conserve energy.  This means they are awake during the winter when there is not enough food to survive.

Last updated: July 25, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

3729 County Road 98
Bridgeport, AL 35740

Phone:

(256) 495-2672

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