Door County Environmental Council Column

A group of high school teachers relaxes during a break in one of the large rooms in the Horseshoe Bay Cave. Photo by Gary K. Soule.

The unique and mysterious Horseshoe Bay Cave, also known as Tecumseh Cave or Alpine Cave, located under the Town of Egg Harbor, was formed over 60,000 years ago. It is a surviving remnant of a larger cave system that was partly destroyed by the glacier that carved out the Bay of Green Bay and formed the Niagara Escarpment features that we see around us today. This glacier retreated 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, leaving us a naturally-formed river cave, which is still the second longest known cave of over 400 caves found in Wisconsin.

This cave, whose end is yet to be discovered, has been explored to an impressive 3,103 mapped feet of passageways. The main trunk passage alone extends 2,725 feet in length under Egg Harbor Town. Cave-divers have explored air and water filled passageways near the back of this major cave system. They report that after a submerged dive, the air-filled cave continues onward into an unknown and unexplored distance. At this point the natural cave passageway is very wide but only a foot high; however, its gravel floor would permit easy digging to allow for upright exploration.

The cave was known historically back as far as 1879, although no known or written documentation exists. Reportedly, Chief Tecumseh used the cave for refuge at one point while being pursued by another band of Indians. In 1899, this all changed when the local newspaper officially reported the discovery of this new cave.

An effort is currently under way to incorporate this major and unique subterranean cave into the Door County Park System. If successful, this cave would likely become the popular crown jewel in an expanding Door County Park System.

Members of the Wisconsin Speleological Society, Bob Bultman and Buzz Davis, along with other active spelunkers, are trying to have this privately-owned cave incorporated into the Door County Park System. The cave could then be preserved for educational tours, as well as being maintained as a public venue for local folks and tourists.

To that end, I approached George Pinney, Director of Door County Parks, who reacted very positively to the concept of public ownership of Horseshoe Bay Cave. Pinney is actively pursuing the possibility of Door County having its own county owned cave, and recently announced that the “Door County Parks Department is currently investigating the availability of land for sale near Murphy Park. The land of interest is a pasture property located south of the Horseshoe Bay Farm barns and may include access to the Horseshoe Bay Cave. Conversations with the owners are in a very early stage.”

It should be pointed out that this is an ideal cave at an ideal location for public interpretation. Eventually a visitor or karst geology center could be a valuable asset for our community, and could serve as a base of operations for guided public cave tours.

Many grant sources will need to be located. Other hurdles will have to be overcome to make this a reality and preserve this unique and wonder-filled asset for public enjoyment into the future.

Calumet County and Manitowoc County already have significant caves within their county park systems with public tours scheduled at various times. These fascinating caves are extremely popular with students and tourists alike, thanks to the wisdom of those with the foresight to create and hold them as a county entity.

This wondrous cave system is a significant amenity that Door County should not lose to private enterprise. Contact your County Board Representative and express your support for this unique feature of our county to become a permanent part of our park system.