A gem of the south, Mammoth Cave’s famous rolling hills, deep river valleys and the world’s largest known cave system welcomes over 600,000 visitors per year. Its rich human history spans thousands of years, while a diverse range of plant and animal life make their home on over 52,000 acres (about twice the area of Manhattan) in south central Kentucky.

Despite its reputation as one of the most beautiful autumn destinations for its foliage and dramatic views, polluting industrial facilities across Kentucky and the surrounding regions from the Southeast to the Ohio River Valley, continue to threaten Mammoth Cave’s biodiversity, vistas and visitors’ health.

Situated in south-central Kentucky, this extensive cave system faces challenges stemming from coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities, which contribute to elevated levels of pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter as well pollution which drives climate change. These pollutants have detrimental effects on scenic views and compromise the health of the park’s unique flora and fauna – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of park lovers who flock there each year.

It may come as a surprise that the subterranean world of Mammoth Cave is not immune to the impacts of air pollution. Airborne contaminants can find their way into the cave passages, affecting delicate geologic formations and influencing the subterranean ecosystems which have remained preserved for thousands of years. The interconnection between surface and cave environments underscores the importance of addressing air quality issues comprehensively, as pollution on the surface can have damaging effects below ground and where visitors seek river overlooks and rock formations alike. While visitors experience degraded views, local residents suffer from asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.

Our Polluted Parks report finds that Mammoth Cave faces significant concern levels for harm to nature mainly due to nitrogen and sulfur deposition in soil and water. Moreover, the park reached unsatisfactory levels in the categories of Hazy Skies and Unhealthy Air. Climate change negatively affects Mammoth Cave through the introduction and proliferation of invasive species that disrupt the ecological balance and compromise the health of its habitat.

Efforts to mitigate air pollution in Mammoth Cave National Park involve collaboration between NPCA, our partners and state and federal agencies who can strengthen protections against air pollution. Our experts and advocates also continue urging EPA to strengthen clean air standards to protect the ecological integrity of parks like Mammoth Cave, both on the surface and in underground realms of the park. Unfortunately, the Kentucky Division for Air Quality has yet to provide meaningful protections, including cuts to pollution, which are a readily available option thanks to EPA’s Regional Haze Program. The public can demonstrate the importance of holding polluters accountable for their park-harming emissions by submitting letters during state and federal comment periods and participating in public hearings. Please join us to ask Kentucky decisionmakers to develop a strong plan to reduce haze pollution.

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