WATERLOO, Ill. – Throw on your boots because we’re going deep inside the Land of Lincoln. After years of being closed to the public to protect cave-dwelling bats from a fatal disease, Illinois Caverns in Waterloo are opening back up the downward stairs.
“Illinois Caverns wasn’t opened for 10 years and the white-nosed syndrome was the reason,” said Colleen Callahan, director of the Illinois Department Natural Resources. “So, we’ve been cautious and we’re continuing to do so, wiping off and rinsing off our boots.”
Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith is excited for the potential tourist dollars coming to the area.
“It’s an exciting thing for Monroe County, for Columbia, and Waterloo,” he said. “We have great restaurants and hotels in Waterloo and Columbia, this is great.”
The destination was once known as Mammoth Caverns of Illinois; now it’s simply just Illinois Caverns.
The state department of natural resources spent years working with the city of Waterloo and Monroe County to get this piece of history back open to the public for tour led exploration.
“The channel may have started out as a crack in the limestone. So, the water starts moving through this crack and eats away and creates this cave,” said Ralph Sawyer, Karst Conservancy of Illinois, who’s been exploring caves for five decades.
From the nice, 57-degree temperature to the wet walls, trying to describe the limestone walls and natural curves of the caverns, it’s almost one of those experiences you have to feel.
“The minute you enter a cave, the surface world ceases to exist,” Sawyer said. “You’re only concentrating on where you are and what you’re doing and it’s as if the rest of the world does not exist, until you go back to the surface.”