On Tuesday, July 7th, 1987, the manager at Cave of the Mounds, Anne Bandow, received a call from Mr. Charles McKinney of the US Interior Department. The designation of Cave of the Mounds as a US National Natural Landmark was in the home stretch, with an announcement expected soon after the phone call. However, given the history of the process, it wasn’t going to be within 60 days.
Before we get to Cave of the Mounds becoming a National Natural Landmark, let’s answer the question of what is a National Natural Landmark (NNL)? It is a natural area that has been designated by the Secretary of the Interior to recognize some of the best examples of biological or geological resources in the nation. It is the only natural areas program of national scope that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. Cave of the Mounds is not government-owned.
The site must be one of the “best” examples of a type of biological community or geological feature in its biophysiographic province. “Best” is gauged primarily on the illustrative value and condition of the resource.
Becoming a National Natural Landmark can be a long process. Cave of the Mounds first applied in 1976 for this special status for national treasures. The Cave had to show the government that it stands as a unique geological site. This had been demonstrated with strong support from the State Geologic Survey and the UW Geology Department.
The National Natural Landmark is managed by the National Park Service, part of the Department of the Interior. However, the usual government red tape had action on our request tied up the process for 12 years. Cave of the Mounds then contacted Representative Bob Kastenmeir’s office who had been working to discover what red tape had been holding up the process.
On July 30, 1988, Cave of the Mounds was designated a National Natural Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. There are about 599 designated sites in the United States and 18 of those sites reside in the state of Wisconsin, including bogs, prairies, forests, water features, and Cave of the Mounds. When Cave of the Mounds earned the National Natural Landmark designation, it entered into a public-private partnership with the National Park Service. This partnership ensures that the Cave will be managed & protected for future generations as a prime example of Wisconsin’s Natural Heritage.