Groundwater, Karst and Caves

The Niagara Escarpment is an important source of groundwater and drinking water. The Niagara Escarpment and Cuesta are considered to be a ‘karst’ landscape, which means it has a highly fractured – and dissolvable – dolomite geology. This type of geology causes fractures, sinkholes and caves to appear, and creates an environment where groundwater is highly prone to contamination.

Private wells must be maintained, and tested regularly, and the impacts of new or existing land uses need to be carefully considered when living along the Escarpment corridor.


“The Niagara Escarpment corridor is home to the most underground cave systems found anywhere within Wisconsin. Cave features were created as the glaciers left and significant amounts of melt-water traversed the highly soluble karst landscape. Sinkholes and other conduits at the surface allowed for glacial melt-waters to dissolve and wear away the underlying dolostone as surface water becomes groundwater that finds the path of least resistance. Dozens of caves are known to exist along the Niagara Escarpment corridor, including two of the three longest cave systems the State. Many of these caves are on private land and therefore are inaccessible to the average person. However, two publicly accessible cave systems exist at the Ledge View Nature Center just outside of Chilton (Calumet County) as well as caves located at the Cherney-Maribel Caves County Park, in Manitowoc County. The State’s caving club – the Wisconsin Speleological Society – often hosts tours of these caves and they can be contacted for more information. While the Maribel Caves system is somewhat smaller, it has a very interesting history which was documented by Gary K. Soule with the WSS.

A link to the extensive Maribel New Hope Cave history report can be viewed or downloaded by clicking here (please note that this is a ~20MB .pdf file and it may take awhile to upload/download!)”