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In addition to showing off the beauty of the caves for visitors, Glenwood Caverns’ is celebrating the International Year of Caves and Karst to help provide education and protection for the natural wonders here in Glenwood Springs and around the world.
The International Year of Caves and Karst (IYCK) is an initiative of the International Union of Speleology (UIS), a non-profit headquartered in Slovenia and dedicated to the exploration, study and management of caves through international cooperation.
Glenwood Caverns is a proud IYCK supporter, helping to educate visitors about caves and karst. “Every cave tour is an opportunity to inform visitors from all over the globe and of all ages about the unique, fragile environment of caves,” said Kathy Miller, Director of Cave Operations.
What Exactly is Karst?
Karst is a type of landscape that covers about 20 percent of the world’s land, with special surface, hydrological and underground features and phenomena. It forms mainly by the slow dissolving of certain rocks over thousands of years. Karst forms most widely in carbonate rocks—limestone, dolomite and marble—by water enriched with carbon dioxide, which is slightly acidic and can dissolve those rocks. In dry climates, karst forms on evaporite rocks— gypsum, anhydrite, and halite (rock salt)—which dissolve even if the water is not acidic. In rare cases, karst will form in other rocks, such as quartz sandstones. Caves are the best-known type of karst feature, and form as underground drainage systems by the dissolution process.
Why are Caves Important?
- Economic Drivers. Caves and karst are priceless natural resources. Hundreds of caves are open to tourism around the world, many in World Heritage sites. About 150 million tourists visit caves each year, providing vital support to many national economies.
- Fresh Water. Karst aquifers provide an estimated 20 percent of the world’s drinking water and include the largest wells and springs on earth.
- Biodiversity. Caves and karst are home to many of the planet’s most diverse, important and rare ecosystems, supporting ecological diversity above and below the ground.
Why Do We Need to Understand Caves Better?
Despite its broad international distribution and great importance, caves and karst are generally poorly understood. Few scientists and natural resource managers are adequately trained to properly study or manage them. Many governments do not recognize caves and karst at all or fail to recognize their importance. As such they are often unprotected, subject to contamination and vandalism.
Progress is being made, however. Specialized cave and karst conferences are now common and national cave and karst research institutes have been established in eight countries. Effective understanding and management of caves and karst requires broad, international understanding and appreciation by governments from the local to the national level, as well as from such stakeholders as scientists and the public.
How Can You Help?
One of the best ways to support caves and karst is to visit a cave near you. Your visit not only raises money that contributes to the care of caves but also raises awareness about the importance of protecting them for future generations. With 2021 declared the International Year of Caves and Karst, this year is a perfect time to go deeper by exploring the hidden world of caves either at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park or elsewhere.