purchased by caving groups
The Minnesota Cave Preserve and the Minnesota Caving Club, both founded by John Ackerman, announced that they have purchased Hiawatha Caverns, a former show cave in southeastern Winona County.
This highly decorated cave was discovered in 1962 as workmen were installing overhead power lines. Several years later the owner commercialized the cave, but the operation closed in 1966 due to poor sales.
Subsequently, the cave was basically abandoned, leaving it vulnerable to vandalism. Beginning in 1996 through 2004, Ackerman attempted to purchase this spectacular cave to preserve and protect it, but his efforts were in vain.
Shortly after the owner died in 2004 the cave property was sold. Once again Ackerman attempted to purchase the cave, but to no avail.
Last year the president of the Minnesota Caving Club, Martin Larsen, reached out to the current owner and began discussions relating to the preservation of the cave. By August 2019 Ackerman, Larsen, and the cave owner reached an agreement to sell the cave to the Minnesota Cave Preserve.
The first task at hand was to replace the collapsed, man-made entrance to the cave.
"The concrete entrance was still intact, but the lengthy wood lined tunnel leading into the mouth of the cave had collapsed," stated Ackerman. "The heavy steel door was ajar, and major rain events had been washing mud into the cave through a collapse along the tunnel.”
Shortly after the final documents were signed a new 30-foot long entrance was installed, consisting of a heavy duty eight-foot diameter thick tube. According to Ackerman, "This was a major project, but it went smoothly thanks to Martin's engineering skills, combined with using the 'Cave Finder,' our long reach trackhoe, which we utilize to discover caves."
Larsen is in the process of manufacturing a steel door for the new entry tunnel, and members of the Minnesota Caving Club have begun restoration of the cave. Longtime caver David Gerboth is heading up this effort, and states, "Not only will this cave look better than when it was first commercialized, but there is no doubt we will be discovering new segments of this cave system."
The Minnesota Cave Preserve was founded in 1989 by Ackerman to preserve, study, protect and promote conscientious exploration and conservation of the unique underground wilderness. Throughout the years Ackerman has established eight preserves in southeastern Minnesota and northern Iowa, which provides access to 36 miles of cave passages. The properties encompass 43 caves, 715 surface acres and 1,300 acres of additional subterranean cave rights.
When asked what the future holds for these incredibly important resources, Ackerman emphatically replied, "Everything will be perpetually protected and preserved, so that it will be available to cavers, scientists and to all of humanity."