By Marla Ballard
JACKSON COUNTY – The Russell Cave National Monument is the third largest mapped cave in Alabama, located in Jackson County near the town of Bridgeport. With a mapped length of 7.2 miles, it ranks 314 on the World Long Cave List.
The grounds offer maintained trails for walking, the area is a station on the North Alabama Birding Trail, a picnic area and public restrooms, and Rangers are on duty to answer questions. The walk to the cave entrance is 2/10 of a mile. More than 115 species of birds have been identified by researchers on the grounds.
The Monument was established on May 11, 1961, by President John F. Kennedy, when 310 acres were donated by the National Geographic Society to the American people. The cave and grounds were placed on the Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966, and are maintained by the National Park Service. The park serves to protect one of the most complete records of human occupation in the Southeast US. The archeological record shows one of the longest, continuously used occupation sites in North America.
Members of the Tennessee Archeological Society began excavations in 1953. From 1956-1958 professional work led by Carl Miller working for the Smithsonian Institute dug over 35 feet. In 1962 the National Park Service led a dig 10.5 feet deep. Close to three tons of artifacts have been found. Findings include: pottery, ceramic pieces, stone points, knives, shells, shell jewelry, animal bones, animal bone jewelry, remains of woven basket, and human remains. The cave has also revealed a rare species of scorpion known only to have been discovered in Russell Cave.
Visitors may approach the cave and witness the exceptionally wide entrance that was used as a shelter by Native Americans. The shelter opening is 107 feet wide, 26 feet high and curves back 270 feet. Sadly, for spelunkers recreational caving is no longer allowed. The cave is prone to sudden flooding causing unstable walls and ceiling. Another reason is to restrict White-nose Syndrome.
White-nose Syndrome was first detected in 2006. This fungal outbreak is believed to have already killed over six-million bats. There are eight species of bats known to live on the property at Russell Cave. Bats are crucial to the US agricultural economy. Bats act as a natural pest control for farms and also help control the population of insects that spread disease to humans. There is no known treatment for White-nose Syndrome, the only prevention known is to control the spread by humans. Humans are not affected by the fungus, but are known carriers.
The park museum is currently under renovation, but the natural scenery is a unique treat. The park is open from 8 AM – 4:30 PM daily. Located at 3729 C.R. 98, Bridgeport, AL. Phone 256-495-2672.