Caves get own spot on park roster
May 16, 1999
By PAUL FATTIG
CAVE JUNCTION — The Oregon Caves National Monument has emerged from under the administrative umbrella of Crater Lake National Park, a move that reflects the monument’s burgeoning role in understanding North American natural history.
The Oregon Caves, where recent fossil finds have shed light on scientific theories about Ice Age mysteries, is no longer part of the administrative authority of the only national park in Oregon.
“The Oregon Caves has fledged,” said Chuck Lundy, superintendent of the Crater Lake National Park. “It has a large enough core staff and a very capable superintendent. They are fully able to fly on their own.”
Although it has been functioning independently in terms of its own budget and other responsibilities in recent years, the monument has remained under the administration of the national park. That status changed April 1.
Monument superintendent Craig Ackerman, an Oregon Caves employee since 1990, now reports directly to the National Park Service’s regional office in Seattle.
“We consulted the regional director and felt it was time to make the change,” Lundy said, citing work being done by Ackerman and his staff.
“Of course, when they do need help, we will gladly provide that,” Lundy added.
Although the action may only be a stroke of the pen, it is an indicator of the monument’s growing status, officials said.
“The Oregon Caves are something to be proud of,” Ackerman said. “There are some very interesting things happening here.”
That includes the discovery of fossils that are shedding light on scientific theories, he said, referring to grizzly fossils found in 1997 that are believed to be some 50,000 years old. They are the oldest fossilized grizzly bones ever found in North America.
Until those bones were found, the grizzly wasn’t believed to have arrived in the region until about 12,000 years ago.
The fossils are causing scientists to re-examine the long-held theory that humans migrated across an ancient land bridge from what is now Siberia into North America about 40,000 years ago, according to Jim Mead, a paleontologist with the Department of Geology at Northern Arizona University.
The Oregon Caves National Monument, located about 20 miles east of Cave Junction, is now open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week with tours held every hour.
The summer schedule — May 28 through Sept. 6 — is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tours will begin every hour and a half during that time.
The price for cave tours is $7.50 for those 12 and older; $6.50 for seniors citizens with gold cards; and $5 for kids under 12.
For information, call 592-3400.
He is one of the scientists studying the caves and its fossils.
If the bears were migrating much earlier than previously believed, that opens the possibility that human migration also occurred much earlier, Mead explained.
In 1995, the fossilized bones of an enormous jaguar that once weighed about 500 pounds were found. Those bones are believed to be more than 20,000 years old.
Scientists, who previously thought the caves were formed 300,000 years ago, now report that flowstone dating shows the caves were actually formed between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, Ackerman said.
“There are a lot of interesting things going on that are having an impact on scientific theories.”
Discovered in 1874 by Williams resident Elijah J. Davidson, the caves were named a national monument by President William Taft on July 12, 1909.
It was managed by the Forest Service until 1933 when it became part of the National Park Service. The caves, along with Crater Lake and the Lava Beds National Monument in the Klamath Basin, were originally under the direction of a superintendent based in Klamath Falls.
In the past decade, an effort has been made to reduce the impact humans have had on the caves. About 1,500 tons of human materials, including heavy asphalt once used for building foot paths, have been carried out. Roughly $1.5 million has been spent restoring the caves.
The monument, which completed a new management plan last fall, now has an environmental education program drawing students from 45 school in Southern Oregon and northern California, Ackerman said.
“In resource management, where we once had no program at all, we now have very active scientific research going on,” he said, adding, “The scope of operations has changed a lot in the last 10 years.”