History and Culture
The park's caves have a long and interesting geologic history beginning about 38 million years ago when sea levels were much higher and the southeastern coastal plain of the United States was submerged. Shells, coral and sediments gradually accumulated on the sea floor. As sea levels fell, these materials hardened into limestone. During the last million years, acidic groundwater dissolved crevices just below the surface creating cave passages large enough to walk through. Dazzling stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and other fragile cave-drip formations were by a similar dissolving process by the naturally acidic rainwater. The park's bluffs, springs and caves are referred to as karst terrain, and the caves provide habitat for the blind cave crayfish, cave salamanders and three species of cave roosting bats.
The land that comprises a large part of Florida Caverns State Park was acquired on October 11, 1935. Development began on the property before it was established as a state park. Work on the tour cave and structures within the park were completed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Projects Administration. Both groups emerged from President Roosevelt's New Deal, established in 1933 to provide jobs to men during the Great Depression. Tireless hours of work went into the development of the park, which included many aspects beyond the cave. Progress continued on the park until 1942, when the United States joined World War II and funding was cut to the CCC and Works Progress Administration programs. Florida Caverns State Park was officially opened to the public in 1942 and the men who helped develop this park unquestionably left their mark. A walk around the 1,300-acre park reveals the remnants of a fish hatchery, a beautiful Visitor Center that houses the gift shop and museum, a 9-hole golf course and much more.
Interpretation is a large part of the Florida Park Service's goal to educate and preserve the natural and cultural aspects of each park. At Florida Caverns State Park, rangers have been interpreting features for more than 65 years. Visitors come across various types of interpretation - from brochures at the front office and signage on the trails to wild flower walks, bird walks and cave tours. Rangers are happy to provide programs on reptiles, archaeology, history of American Indians, prescribed burning and much more. These programs share the past and the present of the people of Florida and those specific to the area. The cave is a great opportunity for visitors to see the geology of the area. By exploring the subterranean system with a knowledgeable tour guide, visitors can see many cave formations such as soda straws, stalactites, stalagmites, columns, draperies and ribbons. The guide will explain how a cave is formed and how it changes gradually through time with water acting as its architect. Fossils are abundant within the cave system. The cave has a nautilus, shark tooth, tube coral, shells and fish vertebrae that are all visible while traversing the rooms at an average of 25 feet below the surface of the ground.
Cultural Resource Management within the Florida Park Service is more than just a job. As stewards of the land, staff is proud to preserve and protect these man-made resources. Within Florida Caverns State Park boundaries lie many cultural sites for visitors. Perhaps the one most seen is the Visitor Center, where the cave tour tickets are sold. The Visitor Center was started by the Civilian Conservation Corps members in 1935. Limestone was the chosen building material and much of the stone came from quarries in the park. The quarries are another cultural resource and known quarries are recorded and identified on the Florida Master Site File. Another cultural resource is the Fish Hatchery that was built by members of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The park also has the honor of preserving two two-story houses, a cottage and what once was a warehouse built by members of the WPA.
Natural Resource Management needs at Florida Caverns State Park are more than plentiful. The area is home to rare plants and animals that thrive only within the natural communities found in the park boundaries. These natural communities include bluffs, upland glades, upland hardwood forests, upland pines, floodplains, alluvial streams and spring-run streams. The special natural features of this park are related to the karst topography characteristic of the Marianna Lowlands. These features include sinkholes, deep and beautiful blue springs, cliffs, bluffs, outcroppings and a large assemblage of spectacularly decorated limestone caves. Along with the thriving natural flora and fauna come the threats of exotic species that require ongoing efforts to control. Exotics can be plants and animals that are not native to the area and were brought in by people usually to use as decoration or to keep as pets.