Cavers discover passageway in Manitowoc County

Post date: Sep 10, 2012 5:36:20 AM

The first person through the Tartarus Cave system in Maribel ceremonially burns through a ribbon with the candle she used to light her way.

Updated: Sunday, 09 Sep 2012, 10:20 PM CDT

Published : Sunday, 09 Sep 2012, 6:22 PM CDT

Kelly Schlicht, FOX 11 News

MARIBEL - Cave explorers made a historic connection in Manitowoc County this weekend. Two glacier-made caves in Maribel thought to be separate are now joined, thanks to the help of volunteers. Instead of cutting the ceremonial ribbon, cavers used a candle to burn a ribbon at both ends. Both ends of a cave, that is. It used to be two separate caves entirely. "This is the entrance to the old Tartarus cave. The cave on the other side was Split Rock cave, but they’re not named that anymore," a tour guide told the group of about 20 people who gathered for the first ceremonial crawl-through. The celebration is made possible thanks to local cave explorers Al Schema and Brian Kleist. They started clearing this rare passage of rock and silt 14 months ago. "Up in this part of the state, it was heavily glaciated over the years. And to have two entrances actually connect is pretty rare in a glaciated part of the state. That's where you can crawl in one side and out the other, because it's been filled in by the glaciers,” said Schema. Rock by rock they cleared the way, putting the debris to good use. "We're improving the trails here. Eventually, it will be handicap accessible,” said Kleist. They opened the narrow passageway. In some spots, the opening’s only three feet tall. The first lucky cave enthusiasts—drawn at random—got the chance to explore the 200 foot passage. It was lit only by candle, flashlight or head lamp. "It was just really cool. It's wet in there but it's so nice. Nobody's around you. It's just you and the cave,” said Dawn Margrave of West Allis. She was the first caver to go through. "I’m going back in over and over. This time I might take some pictures,” she said. The men who worked with the Manitowoc County Parks to make this cave connection possible say they hope these explorers are just the first of many to experience the beauty found underground. "I think the goal of the cavers here in the park is to help better it for future generation,” said Schema.

The Tartarus Cave System is open to the public on the second Sunday of the month, May through October. The next chance is Sunday, September 16th. It's located in the Cherney Maribel Caves County Park in Manitowoc.