Kentucky’s underground kingdom, Mammoth Cave National Park, celebrated its 78th birthday Monday.
The world’s longest known cave system became the 27th national park in America on July 1, 1941, and park staff decided to throw a party for its anniversary.
“Back in 1941 we only had 44 miles of cave discovered, now we have 412 known miles, so we’re here to celebrate that with some free community events,” Park Ranger Emily Sweet said.
Tables outside the park’s Visitor’s Center were decorated with colorful balloons, folded tissue paper and party favors.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., attendees painted with watercolors, played cave-themed games like “Pin the Bat on the Cave” and tested their lung strength with a candle-blowing competition.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Sweet said. “And shows people that this park is open to all types of recreation. We have cave tours, (but) we also have a lot of surface activities, fun events on the surface (and) a lot of hiking trails. We’re honestly just excited to get community members more involved.”
Partygoers also had the opportunity to write down what they think the park will be like on its 100th birthday, and those predictions were placed in a time capsule.
“In (2041), they’ll come back and they’re gonna open it back up,” attendee Carrie Thomas said. “It was neat to hear what the boys had to say (about) what might be changed.”
Thomas saw the event on Facebook and traveled from Munfordville to attend with her two sons, Levi, 4, and Chase, 6.
The boys anticipate more bugs and bats, while Carrie Thomas believes more of the cave will be discovered – and she’s not alone.
“I think (park rangers) said there’s more people down there looking for it,” 11-year-old Sophia Giggy said.
And she’s right. Explorers are continually finding new parts of the five-level cave system that was named for its “mammoth” size and, according to legend, was discovered accidentally by a hunter in the 1790s.
Giggy’s uncle Steve Ferro envisions a more technologically-advanced future for the park.
“A lot more guests arriving in self-driving vehicles, I think that you’ll be able to pay for your fees with cryptocurrencies, and there will be much better cell coverage,” Ferro laughed.
Ferro and Giggy decided to stop by the park on their way from Tennessee to Kansas, and joined several people in a happy birthday ballad before snagging the last piece of cake.