Preservationists buy cliff to save cave in Monroe County

News-DemocratJanuary 27, 2014 

In a ceremony Saturday, Clifftop, a non-profit land preservation trust group, took possession of 535 acres of Mississippi River bluff-top land that covers an important Illinois cave.

Clifftop paid $2.7 million for 535 acres of land of the Seibert estate in Monroe County, about three miles north of Renault, said Carl DauBach. executive director of the organization.

The purchase was the culmination of nearly a year-long effort to buy the land that had been slated for division for housing, said George Obernagel, president of the 11-member board of the group.

Clifftop has about 200 members, all volunteers, DauBach said.

The group is dedicated to restoring bluff-top land in Monroe, St. Clair and Randolph counties to its natural state. It also owns 475 other acres in Monroe County and 115 acres in Randolph County.

The gem of this purchase is the Fogelpole Cave system -- the largest cave in Illinois. It is home to the endangered Illinois cave amphipod and also the threatened Indiana bat.

The cave system also is important to the area's water quality because it is below a karst and sinkhole plain, land which is pitted by holes in the natural limestone where water can seep through quickly.

The group will convert the row cropped acreage to a prairie and savannah system to help wildlife and groundwater quality.

The group has asked Steve Taylor, a biospeleologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey and the University of Illinois-Urbana, to be the lead science advisor on the project.

Clifftop received nearly $1.92 million from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and nearly $818,000 from the Grand Victoria Foundation for the purchase and restoration of the land.

Members of the Subterranean Ecology Institute, the National Speleological Society and the Illinois Speleological Society also made donations.

Clifftop members contributed more than $40,000 of their own money.

DauBach said Clifftop members believe they have a duty to care for the special nature of the blufftop area. He said the negotiations were a very complicated procedure involving many lawyers.

"Now the fun begins, the restoration work," he said.

The plan is to open the area for general passive recreational activities such as hiking, wildlife observation, photography and just hanging out and enjoying nature.

"The landscape should, with time, resemble what early Euro-American settlers first saw," he said.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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