The Department of Natural Resources says this week’s flash flooding in eastern Iowa caused considerable damage to the signature attraction at one of the state’s most popular parks. Dance Hall Cave, at Maquoketa Caves State Park, is closed indefinitely.
Kevin Szcodronski, chief of the state parks bureau, says the park’s manager is looking at tons of gooey debris washed in by six-inches of rainfall Tuesday night. Szcodronski says: "He’s estimating, based upon what we faced in the 1980s, a similar event where we hauled out 600-ton of debris, that this event is looking like about 300-ton, about half of last time. The rain and high waters carried in rocks, rubble, mud, corn stalks and really made a mess in there."
The park is located in Jackson County, near the town of Maquoketa. Szcodronski calls it a "major disaster" and says removing the mess will be a monumental chore. Szcodronski says, "There’s only one way to deal with it and that’s lots of hand labor. No equipment is able to get down into that cave so it was shovels and wheel barrows and brought it all out wheel barrow at a time. We used prison labor. We used our staff, everybody we could get a hold of. It was a long process, start to finish. It was a couple of years, frankly, before we got it completely cleaned up."
He hopes the process won’t take years this time, but damage assessment is still underway. Dance Hall Cave, so named because of its cavernous size, is the park’s top attraction but Szcodronski says most of the other caves and trails have been reopened.
He says: "We’ll just have to figure out how to start cleaning up because it is one of the major features in our entire parks system — a very, very popular park. A lot of Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts use it, a lot of youth groups, church groups come in there and just enjoy going in and exploring the caves. We have two youth group camps there and they’re booked every weekend. It’s just a fun place, a very scenic place to be."