Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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History of the Refuge

View inside Fern Cave. Credit: USFWS

View inside Fern Cave. Credit: USFWS

Early spelunkers (cave explorers) started exploring Fern Cave in the 1960's and have described the cave system as a vertical and horizontal maze with over 12 separate levels and interconnected by numerous pits and canyons. The horizontal section of the cave is known to be over 15 miles long and vertical drops of up to 450 feet are found within.

These features have contributed to it being described as the most spectacular cave in the United States and have given it fame both nationally and internationally.

A limited amount of research has been done in the cave over the past couple of decades due to the inaccessibility of the cave. Entrance to the cave is difficult and at least one experienced caver has died entering this cave.

Historically, the cave has served as a winter home to the largest colony of gray bats in the United States. Over one million federally endangered gray bats hibernate in the cave each year and it is estimated that as many as one million Indiana bats, another endangered species, may be using the cave.

Fern Cave NWR gets it's name from the federally threatened American Hart's-tongue fern. Over the past twenty years, the number of plants has dwindled from twenty to just a couple as the result of unscrupulous plant collectors. We can only hope that through increased education and enforcement efforts, this unique species will contine to be found on the refuge.

Last updated: June 15, 2009