Mammoth Cave National Park, located in the state of Kentucky, has the world's largest network of natural caves and underground passageways, which are characteristic examples of limestone formations. The park and its underground network of more than 560 surveyed km of passageways are home to a varied flora and fauna, including a number of endangered species.
Mammoth Cave National Park
© Nomination File
Statement of Significance
Mammoth Cave is the most extensive cave system in the world, with over 285 miles (456 km) of surveyed cave passageways within the property (and at least another 80 miles [128 km] outside the property). The park illustrates a number of stages of the Earth's evolutionary history and contains ongoing geological processes and unique wildlife. It is renowned for its size and vast network of extremely large horizontal passages and vertical shafts. Nearly every type of cave formation is known within the site, the product of karst topography. The flora and fauna of Mammoth Cave is the richest cave-dwelling wildlife known, with more than 130 species within the cave system.
(vii) Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world. The long passages with huge chambers, vertical shafts, stalagmites and stalactites, splendid forms of beautiful gypsum flowers, delicate gypsum needles, rare mirabilite flowers and other natural features of the cave system are all superlative examples of their type. No other known cave system in the world offers a greater variety of sulfate minerals.
(viii) Mammoth Cave exhibits 100 million years of cave-forming action and presents nearly every type of cave formation known. Geological processes involved in their formation continue. Today, this huge and complex network of cave passages provides a clear, complete and accessible record of the world’s geomorphic and climatic changes. Outside the cave, the karst topography is superb, with fascinating landscapes and all of the classic features of a karst drainage system: vast recharge area, complex network of underground conduits, sink holes, cracks, fissures, and underground rivers and springs.
(x) The flora and fauna of the cave is the richest caverniculous wildlife known, numbering over 130 species, of which 14 species of troglobites and troglophiles are known only to exist here.
Mammoth Cave National Park, located in the state of Kentucky, has the world's largest network of natural caves and underground passageways, which are characteristic examples of limestone formations.
The park includes by far the longest cave system in the world, with known passages extending some 550 km. It is of geological importance due to the 25 million years of cave-forming action by the Green River and its tributaries. Almost every type of cave formation is known within the site and the geological processes involved in cave formation are continuing. The long passages with huge chambers, vertical shafts, stalagmites and stalactites, gypsum 'flowers' and 'needles' and other natural features of the cave system are all superlative examples of their types. The park and its underground network of more than 550 km surveyed passageways are home to varied flora and fauna (including a number of endangered species).
It is the most extensive and diverse cave ecosystem in the world, with over 200 species, mostly invertebrate, indigenous to the network of caves, with 42 species adapted to life in total darkness. Outside the cave, the karst topography is superb, with fascinating landscapes, luxuriant vegetation and abundant wildlife - terrestrial vertebrates include 43 mammal, 207 bird, 37 reptile and 27 amphibian species. All the features of a karst drainage system are found within the site. Fossils are distributed throughout the rocks of the Mississippian age and include brachiopods, crinoids and corals.
Surface features are also important and Big Woods, a temperate deciduous oak-hickory dominated forest, is reputed to be one of the largest and best remaining examples of the ancient forest of eastern North America that once covered Kentucky. The vegetation communities on the surface of the plateau include 84 tree varieties, 28 varieties of shrubs and vines, 29 types of fern, 209 wildflowers, 67 species of algae, 27 species of fungi and 7 species of bryophyte. This temperate deciduous oak-hickory forest is dominated by oaks including white, black and chestnut oaks and hickories including pignut and mockernut, with some beech, maples, tulip tree, ash and eastern red cedar
The troglodyte fauna includes several endangered species of blind fish, shrimp, bat and freshwater mussel.
Of special concern is the Kentucky cave shrimp, a freshwater species of uncertain status. The geological setting has contributed to the species richness of the area with the cave system being old enough to have viable communities of fauna from three karst regions within an area large enough for speciation to have occurred. Nowhere else do the blind fish and their spring-cave dwelling relative co-exist.
Archaeological sites in the area show evidence of four pre-Columbian Indian cultures. Mammoth Cave has been important in the development of human culture, with four distinct cultural periods described: palaeo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian. The early Woodland culture is particularly important because it marked the independent development of organized horticulture in the Western Hemisphere, with primitive agriculture on river floodplains and was the period of the first exploration and mining in Mammoth Cave. Several mummies, sandals, campfire sites, bare foot prints have been found preserved in the stabilizing cave atmosphere.
However, the site does not include the entire river catchments of waters flowing through the site, so future disturbance is possible, particularly to the south and east of the park, where light industry is replacing agriculture.
There are no permanent inhabitants in the core area. About 240 people live in the buffer zones with a further 1,500 in the transition area, including about 600 in Park City. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The area was declared a national park on 1 July 1941, under enabling legislation of US Congress (44 Statute 635) of 25 May 1926. Kentucky ceded exclusive jurisdiction over park lands by an act of legislature approved on 22 March 1930 and this was accepted by the Secretary of the Interior on 1 May 1944 by authority of the act of 5 June 1942 (56 Statute 317). Exclusive jurisdiction over the remainder of the land was accepted on 1 May 1965. Certain roads through the park are legally open to the public under Deed No.262 of 18 June 1945. Part of the area is endorsed by the Barren River Area Development District resolution of 24 October 1988. Big Woods Old-growth Forest is designated a state natural area by the state of Kentucky. Green River is designated a wild and scenic river and Green River and Mammoth Cave subsurface streams are designated outstanding resource waters by this state. Accepted as a World Heritage site in 1981 and as a biosphere reserve in 1990. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation