New Hope: The last frontier
By Kris Leonhardt
MARIBEL – “New Hope” is the name of the frontier that the Wisconsin Speleological Society and Manitowoc County Parks and Planning Commission are currently surveying near Kewaunee County’s southwest border.
The Wisconsin Speleological Society is a group working to explore, conserve and understand the caves in the state and is assisting in systematically excavating the glacially-deposited sediments in the passages of the cave to restore its natural beauty.
“Discovered on Feb. 5, 1984, the cave has yielded new discoveries ever since. Members of the non-profit, Wisconsin Speleological Society have been removing glacial sediment and exploring, and expanding, the cave since its discovery,” said Gary Soule, cave historian and archivist from Sturgeon Bay.
“What is so unusual is that today this impressive cave is so large that a visitor can walk upright through its cave passageways with ceiling heights up to 13 feet high. No steps exist in the cave, and it is electrically lighted. Even calcite cave formations exist, which is rather unusual for a Niagara Dolomite-formed cave. The last glacial period from 10,000 – 12,000 years ago destroyed most caves and filled others.
“It was frost coming out of the ground on a bitterly cold day that alerted cavers to the possible presence of a cave. “
Soule said that a tight crawlway was initially discovered and it was six years before the first cave room was reached.
“The Halloween Room, with its nine-foot-high rock pillar, was discovered, complete with live bats, on Halloween Eve, Oct. 31, 1990. So, it was naturally named the Halloween Room.
Soule said the initial cave tours were very informal and involved mostly crawling.
“It was in 2007 that cavers decided to electrically light the cave for visitors. A portable generator was brought to the Manitowoc County park and put into operation. Later, electric power poles and lines would be brought to the cave,” he explained.
“The cave continued to grow in length, and many more cavers from all over Wisconsin worked hard to come and expand the naturally formed river cave.
“In 2016, the cave was recognized as an officially developed public show cave. Out of 400 known caves located mostly in southwestern and western Wisconsin, only five caves are currently developed and open for public tours.”
Maribel New Hope Cave now offers over 1,000 feet of mapped passageways.
“Currently an underground stream has been reached by hard-core cave explorers. It is truly the last frontier on earth since man has already been to the top of Mt. Everest, as well as seven miles down in a submarine in the Pacific Ocean off of Southeast Asia,” Soule said.
“Yet anyone, with modest means, could discover ‘The Last Frontier’ right beneath their very feet.”
What to know if you go
Public cave tours are officially held on the third Sunday of every month, May – October, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., with cash donations requested.
The main cave tour route is all upright walking and is suitable for all ages.
Over 10 known caves exist in the 75-acre county park.
The longest undeveloped cave is the Cave of Treasures.
For this cave, you will have to crawl and need to bring your own lights.
It is open every day during daylight hours.
Maribel New Hope Cave is located in Cherney Maribel Caves County Park, 15401 County Rd R, Maribel.
Things to see nearby
The ruins of the Maribel Caves Hotel may be viewed nearby.
The hotel was built in 1900 by Charles Steinbrecker to resemble the Austrian resorts of his home country.
The hotel touted rejuvenation and drew visitors with its mineral spring water.
A series of fires and vandalism have left it a shell of itself, but it can be viewed from a distance.
Soule said that the old bottling plant and horse stables that were used in connection with bottling spring water still remain.
The West Twin River also winds through the area near the park.
According to the town of Cooperstown website, the Cherney Maribel Caves County Park “occupies 75 acres on the West Twin River northeast of the village of Maribel in the town of Cooperstown,
“A rugged cliff line, generally paralleling the river, separates the gently rolling, partially wooded upland area from the wooded lowland adjacent to the river. The foot of the cliff line contains small caves and openings in the rock layers. The upland wooded area and its fringes have been developed with facilities for picnicking and hiking. Additional trails are located in the area of the park above the cliff line. Portions of the open land have been planted in seedlings in (a) reforestation project. A staircase and trail system has been constructed for greater accessibility to the scenic lowland area.”