I was lucky enough as part of the Friends of Mammoth Cave board to see Crystal Cave on Friday. Crystal Cave was owned by Floyd Collins, who owned this beautiful cave. It was sold to Mammoth Cave in 1961 for $285,000. Floyd Collins lost his life in Sand Cave in 1925. There are many bluegrass songs and even a musical about Floyd Collins because the event was one of the first new stories to be reported using broadcast radio.
The importance of this cave is closely tied to Floyd Collins, but it is also a reminder about why environmental education is so important. In the 1990s, three vandals (who were teenagers)
broke over 600 pounds gypsum formations in Crystal Cave and sold it to the local rock shops. The stolen gypsum was repurchased by Mammoth Cave National Park and the cave researchers are helping to replace (reglue) the formations to allow them to heal and regrow again in the future. The photo below shows a price tag on one of the stalactites, which shows how shockingly little money the vandals earned for their massive destruction and disrespect of this delicate environment. The vandals ended up with 18 months of jail time.
This hike in the cave reminded me of why environmental education is so vital. Gypsum grows very slowly, so breaking it off destroys what has been growing for hundreds of years. It is so beautiful to see first-hand in the cave, and seeing pieces broken off prompts us to think about appreciation of nature in its natural setting (not in a rock shop). Crystal Cave is lucky to have people who are restoring this damage, and we as educators can also restore this love of place and the land.
Why did these local teenagers not have an appreciation for what was in their own backyards? This is what we as environmental educators need to change.