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Mammoth Cave National Park Finds "Sister Parks" In China


A park guide poses for a photo along a trail in the Stone Forest. The limestone pinnacles are above-ground karst landforms. NPS handout.

Geologically similar parks with strikingly different perspectives -- Mammoth Cave National in the United States and China's Shilin Stone Forest National Park, Libo Zhangjiang National Park, and Wulong National Park -- have signed sister park agreements that open up avenues for the sharing of research and management styles.

“Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world, and most of the park's features are underground,” Mammoth Cave Superintendent Patrick Reed said after returning to the Kentucky park from China, where he participated in ceremonies to note the agreement. "But at Shilin Stone Forest, most of the washed and eroded rock, typical of karst landforms, is on the surface. The Stone Forest is fascinating and known worldwide for its sheer limestone pinnacles rising almost perpendicular to the ground.”

Superintendent Reed and Chinese officials took part in two signing ceremonies: an informal signing of the sister-park agreement was held at Shilin Stone Forest National Park near Kunming, in southwest China’s Yunnan province; and a formal ceremony was held in Beijing. While in Kunming, the superintendent and several others of the U.S. delegation also participated in a water quality conference, organized through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Western Kentucky University (WKU). Groundwater quality is of great concern in karst areas, where delicate cave ecosystems can be polluted by runoff from highways, development, and agricultural practices.

“Water quality is one of the areas where we share common interests with our sister parks in China,” said Superintendent Reed. “Through this conference, and extensive prior work by Western Kentucky University faculty and staff, we have already begun to share practical information to improve water quality in China. In the future we will exchange best management practices and techniques, as well as lessons learned, science and research, data, technology and training.”

Others presenting at the conference included: Dr. Chris Groves, director of WKU’s Hoffman Environment Research Institute and the China Environmental Health Project; Hoffman Institute staff members Pat Kambesis, Lee Anne Bledsoe and Priscilla Baker; Rudy D’Alessandro, NPS Office for International Affairs, Washington, D.C.; Dr. Rickard Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning; and WKU students Chrissie Hollon and Erin Lynch. WKU photojournalism faculty members James Kenney and Tim Broekema documented WKU’s continuing work in China and the Sister Park Partnership ceremonies.

“Although WKU’s cooperative efforts with Mammoth Cave go back decades,” said Dr. Groves, “these interactions raise this to a whole new level and exemplify WKU’s goal of developing international reach.”

Mr. D’Alessandro of the National Park Service has assisted in establishing other sister park arrangements in the agency. “Sister-park relationships are no- or low-cost frameworks for an exchange of best practices and lessons learned in national parks management,” he said.

At the Beijing ceremony, Superintendent Reed stated: “I am proud to be here on this auspicious day to celebrate the pairing of our two World Heritage Sites, which preserve some of the worlds most spectacular, scenic and scientifically important karst landscapes.”

Now that he is back in the states, the superintendent is anxious to put the partnerships into practice.

“We look forward to continuing our work with WKU and our new Chinese Sister Parks in promoting international cooperation and our combined efforts to protect these magnificent World Heritage Sites,” he said.


This is great! I live near the Stone Forest but am an expat from America. I'll have to visit the Mammoth Cave National Park next time I'm in the U.S.!

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