Maribel Caves Manitowoc County Park

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Bluff and cave at county park

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Maribel Caves County Park is located in Manitowoc County, near Maribel. It occupies a water gap of the Niagara Escarpment along the West Twin River. Niagara dolomite is exposed along the sides of the water gap as bluffs. Caves occur on the bluff face. A friend and I visited the park on 18 April 2009. It was a glorious day for such an adventure -- sunny, warm, and dry. It hadn't rained for some time, so the ground was hard and easy to hike. Cool piles of snow were all around in the places where the sun never shines. We had to be cautious at times so as not to slip on the hard, icy stuff.

The above photo kind of showcases the most prominent features of the park -- the bluff face and a cave opening.

A small cave

Caves are what the park is all about. This is a small unexcavated cave in the bluff face.

This is the largest cave in the park. It has been excavated -- glacial till removed -- so that park visitors can explore it. However, it has this door, and the door is kept locked when park personnel aren't around to supervisor things. More info below.

Locked cave
The water gap

When wandering around at the base of the bluff and along the river, one does not see that there are two parallel walls in the water gap. Here at the brink, though, the far side of the gap is clearly seen.

Above the bluff, where the big spring is, there's an old, crumbling ruin of a structure, obviously built from the local rock. It's on private property so can't be accessed. It sure does pique the curiosity! There's a sign on it that makes one wish someone would have announced what it is. Instead, it just warns not to trespass. The roof of the structure is long gone. It has multitudes of windows and doors, including windows that look like they are part of a basement, though a basement is not obviously present in this thing. So, I can't begin to guess what this place once was, but see below.

Mysterious building
Small rapids on the West Twin River

The West Twin River is a pretty sight.

Springs are common along the bluff, but this one was producing the most water by far. It was gushing out. This spring is below the mystery structure.

Spring in the bluff
Maribel's wildflowers

Wildflowers were just beginning to appear, and only where there was plenty midday sunlight.

An individual with connections to the park found this web page and, via email, kindly provided me with the history of the mysterious building pictured above, along with excellent cave and sink hole facts. This person kindly granted me permission to reprint the information, but requested I not include any name. I am most grateful for this information, and the time spent compiling it for me. I regret that I can give no more credit than this.

The small building near the cliff edge was originally built as a spa. It had hot and cold baths inside that [were] used for healing treatments called the Kneipp cure. The water from the spring was supplied to the spa by the use of a ram pump. The ram pump would also pump water to the hotel's holding tank located on the third floor. Gravity would then supply water to the hotel's sinks and bathrooms, the first building in the area to have running water. The hotel and spa did not prosper for too many years. The spa was converted to a water bottling company in the 1920's, distributed water marketed as Maribell Mineral Water, and was sent as far as Chicago. According to a water test report from the early 1900's, the water was said to contain high amounts of magnesium which, if enough was consumed over a period of time, was said to cleanse the body, similar reaction to milk of magnesia. My grandmother and great aunt worked in the bottling plant when they were very young, and I was fortunate to have heard some of the history, which is probably the only reason I have interest in the building.

The hotel was not all that successful and was primarily run as a tavern up to 1985, when it had a mysterious fire and never reopened. The majority of the building was gutted by the fire; however, there were parts of the structure that remained and were of interest to juveniles and vandals. It was said to be a place for gang initiations because of the castle-like architecture, and was also rumored to be haunted. Note: no record of anyone dying in the building. It can be anything you want it to be as long as you believe in it. I'm not a believer, but I do find the tales interesting. The inside of the structure was recently burned out, leaving only the four outside stone walls remaining. This helped [curb] the intrusion of the trespassers because there was nothing left to explore.

The cave with the locked door is called Maribel New Hope Cave. It was originally filled with sediment, as the glaciers melted and receded, and over time eventually filled in. The Wisconsin Speleological Society and volunteers are working on clearing out the sediment and returning the cave to its original structure. The entrance is approximately 4.5 ft high, 3.5 ft [wide], and 20 ft long. It then opens to a larger room about 14 ft in diameter, with a 13 ft high ceiling. From there, corridors branch out in three different directions, reaching as far back as 200 ft. The main corridors are 6 to 8 ft wide and 8 to 13 ft tall. The fear of being trapped is not there. We sometimes have up to 150 people a day stop in for a quick tour. There are also geology students and school groups that come out to study the caves and try to determine how and when the caves were filled in. There have been small rodent bones found in the cave, with one carbon dated to be about 5,600 to 5,800 years old. There are small stalactites in the cave, with some similar to a soda straw size but half in length. Unfortunately, this cave does not have the colors as you saw in the Cave of the Mounds.

The sink holes are formations on the surface that have eroded away by the means of water carrying the surface soil away down through cracks and holes in the solid rock below. In this park, you can see minor divots in the surface approximately 10 ft across and 1 to 3 ft deep. The holes are naturally filled in with smaller rocks and there is no fear of people falling in or sinking in them. We were granted the privilege of excavating a sink hole in the southern part of the park. We cleared out the loose rocks and ended up with a hole 6 ft wide and 28 ft deep. The water that created the sink hole through the solid stone was flowing down to the caves below. At the bottom of our sink hole is a ceiling of a cave structure that is filled in with sediment. We are now working on clearing out the sediment in the cave structure, and have reached approximately 20 ft horizontally. Our goal in this cave passage is to reach a large room that could be approximately 120 ft across, most likely also filled in with sediment. We were not able to clear out a sink hole directly above the large room due to the room [being] under karst (exposed surface rock that the DNR does not allow activity in). The sink hole is approximately 150 ft away from the large room, so we have a lot of sediment to remove before we reach it. There was ground resistivity testing done in the park to help determine where the cave passages were located. This process helped us determine where to start digging so we don't just end up with a hole in the ground not leading anywhere.   
– contributed by anonymous

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