Maribel New Hope Cave

Maribel New Hope cave was discovered on one of the coldest winter days in 1984 on February 5th. Steam was coming out of a pile of rocks that covered the entrance area. The rock is called Talus. Talus is simply breakdown pieces of the cliff face as it weathers and breaks apart. Today if you look above the entrance of New Hope Cave at the moss on the cliff face, you can see how high the Talus pile was across the opening. The moss is above where the rock pile used to be.

Shortly after the steam was found coming out of the rock pile, a preliminary probe of the area from removing rocks out of the way revealed a small opening about the size of a small apple in the cliff face that the steam had been coming out of. Excavation continued the next Spring and a small passage was revealed. However, rocks in the passage discouraged some of the original WSS members attempts to push the passage further so the excavation was abandoned for other easier dig areas in the park. Years passed and other WSS members came on the scene and figured out how to get the fallen rocks out of the way. They dug some more until they hit another rock that stopped their progress. More years passed and other WSS members figured out how to remove the next rock. It was not until 6 years later on October 31st of 1990 that cavers broke through into the first official cave room that is now known as the Halloween Room. The passage from the entrance to this first room was only about a two foot high belly crawl the whole way of about 20 feet.

Halloween Room: This room was first entered on October 31st 1990. The first cavers came in along the ceiling of the cave entrance, dug straight up three feet, following the cave wall and broke into the dome. When the first cavers got into the dome, they could feel airflow from other areas of the cave. It is called “cave wind” Cave wind indicates larger voids ahead and more cave. They dug out small tight passages along the ceiling moving from dome to dome to dome following the cave wind. The dome areas were the only open areas in the cave and in some spots to push further forward they would backfill the sides of the domes. These small tight passages were exploratory passages into the cave. There was an exploratory passage into the West and Southeast Passages of the cave (point out the passages). It however got to the point that there was no more space to store the debris inside the cave so they had to take it all the way out of the cave. They used turkey pans and hubcaps tied with rope on each side to get materials out. They filled them with garden trowels. Where they could, ice cream pails were used. On a good day, their goal was to get out about 25 - five gallon pails of material. The further and further these exploratory passages were pushed ahead the harder it became to get any dirt out of the cave. It finally got to the point that getting out a dozen pails was a major accomplishment for a day. Another problem they ran into is the West Passage leads filled up with water. Interest in the caves slowed down as it became harder and harder to make any progress in the cave. Exploratory passage digs were in the cave from 1990 to 1992. After that, for many years, there was no activity in the cave at all. 

In 2004, new cavers came on board and pointed out how destructive these ceiling crawls were to the cave. Formations near the ceiling were getting broken off and the ceilings which used to be pristine white were getting dirtied up from mud on people’s caving clothes. New ideas bring new solutions. Like almost starting over at square one, the entrance passage was lowered, a track system was obtained and placed in the entrance passage, and then pail by pail the Halloween Room was emptied out from ceiling to floor. It is much easier removing debris standing up than on your stomach. With a roller track system in place, we began removing 250 to 300 pails in a day. Just this year 2012, we have increased our productivity and pail counts by utilizing wheelbarrows now instead of passing pails. We can now push a wheelbarrow from the dig front all the way through the entrance to the outside of the cave.

New Hope Cave has many cave formations in this cave which collectively are called “Speleothemes”. Speleotheme is a Greek term which means “cave deposit”. In this cave, we have “Stalactites” (point them out at the ceiling in Halloween Room), “Stalagmites” (in the Formation Room), “Columns” (in the Formation Room), “Helictites” (near the Echo Dome and in the Formation Room, they look like hanging fish hooks), “Ribbons or Curtains” (point them out at the ceiling in Halloween Room, Echo Dome, and the Formation Room, they look like rows of shark teeth), “Cave Bacon”(found in the Formation Room), “Soda Straws” (found in the Formation Room”, and “Moon Milk” (point it out on the ceiling in the Halloween Room). 

Moon Milk is a different kind of cave deposit. It is not rock but a living deposit. It is formed in caves by microbes eating the limestone underneath the deposit. What the microbes can’t digest they excrete from their bodies and that is the white materials you see on the ceiling in the Halloween Room. It is the consistency of tooth paste. In some other cave locations in the United States the deposits are so thick you can stick your arm into it up to your elbow. This was according to Hazel Barton a renowned caver and microbiologist who we were fortunate to have in the cave four years ago. Another cave formation you will see is “Flowstone” which is sheet like deposits that form on the walls and floor of the cave. The “Pillar” behind me is rare in Wisconsin. There are only three in Wisconsin caves that we know of. It is called a “Speleogen”. That is a formation that is not caused by secondary deposits but by rather the removal of bedrock around it.

Southeast Passage:

 In the Southeast Passage there is a huge example of flowstone. It formed over the top of the debris pile that used to be in the cave. What happens is dissolved rock that is in solution in water hits dry air. The water evaporates away and what is left behind is the rock again. This is what most cave formations are and that is reformed rock from evaporating water in void pockets of air. So as we walk through the passages look for the hanging rock shelves overhead, you will get a visual idea on how much material has been moved out of the cave. Also look at the cave lifelines you will see that the passages follow those cave lifelines. When a passage is filled to the brim, we can tell which way the cave passage runs ahead of us by following the cave lifelines.

 At the end of the Southeast Passage is one of many untouched areas of the passage. You can see it goes all the way to the ceiling. At the ceiling are tree roots coming through from the surface. Bands of gravel, sand, and clay can be clearly seen. Large rocks are also found in the debris piles, when we get them dug out they are broken up and removed from the cave. All loose material is scooped into pails and hand carried out of the cave one bucket at a time. When digging in the cave, we are just removing the loose debris. We dig down following the cave walls until we hit a solid rock cave floor underneath. You can see some scrape marks on the cave walls. That is from the small shovels we use to remove the loose material. We are not mining or creating cave. It was always here but buried in debris. We are “restoring the cave” to its pristine conditions before the glaciers filled them up with debris.

 Hidden Passage 

At the end of the southeast Passage there is another side passage called the Hidden Passage This passage was filled to the ceiling with debris. The current length of the passage is 56 feet. It is a work in progress the passage continues beyond the 56 foot mark which we have dug it to this point. 

West Passage

The West Passage is so far the longest and the most active and decorated passage in the cave. 

The WSS and Manitowoc County are fortunate to have university professors working closely with everyone in the caves. They are actually using the cave in their research projects and have been bringing in some of their students as a teaching aid. The cave is a living laboratory for them and their students. Scientific papers and research grants are in the works because of our excavation activities.