cherney maribel caves county park - maribel, wi
Every time I journey north to the Manitowoc area I find something intriguing to explore. Last week I took a sunflower tour at Van Der Brohe Arboretum, and made a quick stop afterward at Cherney Maribel Caves County Park. The park and its caves were so intriguing, my husband and I went back over the weekend to explore further. So worth the effort!
The park is 75 acres along the West Twin River, north of the village of Maribel. Featured are mountain biking trails, picnic areas, a children's playground, and lots of hiking trails. The hiking trails traverse woodland terrain, as well as along the ledges and ridges of multiple naturally formed caves and rock formations, and along the West Twin River, culminating in a stunning view of the spring fed waterfall that empties into the river. These majestic rock formations are part of the Niagara Escarpment that makes its way from Wisconsin all the way to Niagara Falls. These are some of the most viewable portions of the Escarpment that I have seen in the state. The surrounding trails are well plotted out, scenic, and, other than a few sets of stairs from the upper to lower portions of the park, are easily walked. The trail leading from the River Trail to the Spring Waterfall is very rocky (and wet), however, so be aware. Good hiking shoes will be worth the wear.
At present, there are 10 caves. Some are open daily to the public. Most require crawling. The largest cave (standing is possible) is New Hope Cave. It is generally open one day a month for guided tours. This is the largest excavated cave open to the public, with ceiling heights now up to nearly 14 feet. Groups of 10 or more can schedule tours by appointment. New Hope Cave is home to four species of resident bat populations (which explains why the mosquitoes seemed pretty quiet as we walked the trails). For more detail on the caves, their history, access, and more, check out the video produced by Coolest Coast on YouTube.
You'll find lots of woodland and trailside beauty here. Ferns, mosses, and other unique plant life grow along the rocky outcrops, maidenhair horsetail grows in woodland areas, and wildflowers, including Jewelweed, and native American Figwort (something I had never seen before), sustain lots of happy pollinators along the trail.
The park is also a great birdwatching spot. Great Crested Flycatchers, Blue Jays, and Cedar Waxwings are a few of the birds we spotted here. Nesting American Eagles are also near by, though we did not glimpse them during our walk. Migration season should be excellent here. The fall colors should be spectacular as well.
There are two pavilions, with restrooms, available for rental between April 1 and October 31. The park does not provide maintenance during the winter months, so no plowed roads, etc.
Park Season and Hours: April 1st to October 31st, Dawn to Dusk
Dogs permitted, On-leash.
Location: 15401 County Road R, Maribel, WI (Manitowoc County)
For more information, click here and here. Park Map.
MARIBEL CAVES HOTEL
On the adjoining grounds to this county park, are the stone remains of the Maribel Caves Hotel, established in 1900. Built near the naturally flowing waters of Spring Cave, the hotel served as a health spa in the early 1900's for travelers from New York, Chicago, Ohio, and Milwaukee. It was one of the first buildings in the area to actually have running water installed, sourced from the spring.
A second building was built on the premises as a bath house, sourcing the water from the spring. They began bottling water from the spring in 1907, selling it throughout the country. During prohibition the mob ran a bootlegging operation at the hotel, using shipments of bottled spring water as a means of hiding liquor distilled within the caves, so they could deliver illegal liquor to sell on the black market. Eventually, legend has it, that when the mob figured out they were going to be caught, they blew up the stills inside the caves, destroying any evidence, and sealing the caves closed.
Eventually the hotel went into foreclosure, and in 1931 was purchased by local resident Adolph Cherney. His purchase included both the property with the caves, and the hotel. He eventually offered to sell the property to Manitowoc County at a good price to develop as a park, as long as the name Cherney remained attached. The county purchased the land with the caves, but did not purchase the hotel or bath house property. Eventually that was sold to Jeff Miller, who made plans to reopen it as a hotel in 1981. Just a few short years later the building was destroyed by fire in 1985. What was left was further damaged by a tornado that moved through the area in 2013.
Since that time it has been privately owned, with no immediate plan for development. Though you can see, and photograph, the remains of the buildings from inside Maribel Caves County Park, the hotel property is clearly marked as Private Property, No Trespassing.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places as of 1976.