UAB Darwin Day 2018 features cave art lecture, exhibition on Manitou Cave

Written by Shannon Thomason, UAB NEWS

Paleoanthropologist Genevieve Petzinger

Paleoanthropologist Genevieve Petzinger

    Darwin Day, an international event held in honor of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin, celebrates the advancement of science, education and human well-being. Every year, the University of Alabama at Birmingham hosts events in support of Darwin’s legacy and the global celebration.

This year’s Darwin Day at UAB is set for Thursday, Feb. 8, with an exhibition of artwork exploring Manitou Cave of Alabama and a lecture by Canadian paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger on her research into cave art. Darwin Day is presented by the College of Arts and Sciences’ departments of AnthropologyArt and Art History, and Biology, with support from The Jemison Fund. The events are free and open to the public.

Visual artwork exploring the habitat and ecology of Manitou Cave will be featured in “One Drop at a Time.” The one-day-only exhibition is in the Department of Art and Art History’s Project Space, located on the ground floor of the UAB Humanities Building at 900 13th St. A free, public reception is scheduled from 3-5 p.m. During the reception at 4 p.m., Manitou Cave of Alabama founder and director Annette F. Reynolds will deliver brief remarks.

Located in DeKalb County near Fort Payne, Manitou Cave has been a place of early aboriginal shelter, ceremony and Cherokee inscriptions. Today the cave is the focus of conservation efforts by Manitou Cave of Alabama, Inc., to preserve this living natural museum and world treasure. 

Selected works by UAB students from beginning and intermediate-level drawing courses taught by Assistant Professor Doug Baulos, MFA, will be on view. Works by UAB student-artists Laura Benson, Frances Hackney, Thaddeus Mickler, Sophie McVicar and Irasema Quezada will also be featured, along with work by DAAH Program Coordinator Jared Ragland with collaborator Cary Norton.

At 6 p.m. in the UAB Alumni House, 1301 10th Ave. South, students and faculty members from across campus will participate in a poster session highlighting their newest research in the sciences and social sciences. The work of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and faculty researchers will be included.

Immediately following the poster session in the Alumni House, von Petzinger will present a lecture, “From Cave Walls to Web Pages: The Power of Communication to Change the World,” at 7 p.m. Von Petzinger’s research focus is cave art painted by early humans in Europe between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, specifically the geometric signs found at many of these sites. Von Petzinger, a paleoanthropologist and doctoral candidate at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, explores how these signs can help to better understand early human cognition, communication and use of symbolism. Her work has been widely featured in national and international media and academic publications. She was selected a TED Senior Fellow in 2013; view her TED talk about Ice Age signs online.




Manitou Cave "Botany Blitz" 2017

This is an interview with Annette F. Reynolds
adapted from  Birmingham Botanical Gardens blog “Good Things Growing."
 previously posted on June 7, 2017 on  

On Sunday, June 18,  Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator John Manion, and Annette F. Reynolds, Founder & Director of Manitou Cave of Alabama, led a “Botany Blitz” on the grounds at Manitou Cave.  Birmingham Botanical Gardens hosted a special group to the site to attempt to document all of the plants and native flora on the site.

How much area does the land cover?

        A natural spring-fed beaver pond supports a wealth of wild plants and native species.

        A natural spring-fed beaver pond supports a wealth of wild plants and native species.

The property of Manitou Cave of Alabama covers ten acres.

It is located at the base of Lookout Mountain near the Trail of Tears in historic Ft. Payne, AL, formerly known as Willstown, a Cherokee settlement and home of Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee writing system, the syllabary. These syllabary inscriptions on the walls of the Manitou Cave have recently been translated. 

The ten acres includes a mature spring fed wetland pond, walkway leading to the cave entrance, and a partially maintained grassy area that surrounds the designated “2016 Places in Peril” 1950’s mid-century modern former commercial Visitor’s Center. The remaining property is a pristine forest on a limestone boulder-strewn slope, typical of what might be found farther up Lookout Mountain at Little River Canyon. 

What type of wildlife can be found there?

A wide variety of flora and fauna can be found, from unique cave obligate species, (bats, snails, anthropods) to birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals characteristic of the Appalachian Plateau. Cave salamanders can be seen in the rock crevices and box turtles in the woods. Other turtles are in the pond, as well as beavers, frogs and fish. There are a variety of songbirds, including many neo-tropical migrants. For the past two years, phoebe chicks hatched from their nest which is located on a rock ledge inside the cave entrance. Recently, goslings hatched from their nest which was built atop the pond beaver lodge, and this geese family could be observed feeding on the grasses and swimming in the pond.

The property supports an outstanding example of southern red oak-white oak mixed forest. There are some ancient white oaks along with several other species. One black cherry is about a foot in diameter. Spring wildflowers include trillium, mayapple, liverleaf and others.

How much of the trip was spent within the cave itself?

The tour took 1-1/2 hours, which is the minimum amount of time.  The first half of the cave, which is the tour, consists of concrete steps and eight steel and wooden bridges that go over the pure cave stream. Because it is a large group tour, it will be difficult to hear me, the guide, in the cave. So, before we go on a cave tour, I  give a 20 minute talk about what attendees will see on the cave tour.

What are some of the rarer species that are found at Manitou Cave?  

With ongoing research, there are potentially species of conservation concern on the surface, such as the green salamander and eastern milk snake. The rarest species found in the cave is the Manitou Cave Snail (Antrorbis breweri), which occurs no other place on earth except in this cave. Now that an echolocation cave gate has been built and the cave is being protected and starting to heal, bats of several species are returning to use the cave. Historically, there probably was a vast colony of gray bats that produced guano, which was mined for saltpeter during the Civil War. Many of the miner’s signatures can be found on the cave walls. The bats likely abandoned the cave by the time the cave was commercialized as a tourist attraction in the 1880’s.

What species do you actively work to protect there?

MCAL is a certified NWF Wildlife Habitat. Protecting and restoring the cave species and historic record is the greatest priority. However, the goal is to manage the land for the benefit of all native species.

Through tremendous support of volunteers and local neighborhood workers, we are actively working to eliminate the overgrown kudzu and privet that got established near the old commercial Visitor’s Center since the time the property was closed commercially in 1979. One large Eastern Red cedar, hidden beneath a tent of kudzu, took a week to uncover using a large chainsaw. Recently, a large magnolia was discovered and bloomed for the first time after a group of volunteers hand pulled the kudzu.

The vision of MCAL is to have a passive walking path, a trail of peace, with labeled native plants and trees. On behalf of Manitou Cave of ALabama, please know how grateful we are to John Manion, Mark Bailey, and all the volunteers who visited and contributed their knowledge on the "Botany Blitz" day, a big step in making the vision a reality.

Annette F. Reynolds

 June 2, 2017

National Speleological Society Awards Volunteer Cavers


On July 23, 2016, the Conservation Division of the National Speleological Society (NSS), the largest organization in the world dedicated to protecting, conserving, exploring, and studying caves, presented the Birmingham Grotto with the 2016 Grotto Award for Conservation of Cave & Karst Resources for working with Annette F. Reynolds to conserve and protect Manitou Cave of Alabama.

Many cave explorers, scientists, and enthusiasts, including those from DeKalb County, are members of the Birmingham Grotto of the NSS. Some members were present at 75th Anniversary 2016 Convention in Ely, Nevada to receive this prestigious award for the 400+ hard working volunteer hours and on-going support for the protection, preservation, and conservation of Manitou Cave of Alabama.

The volunteer efforts include hand scraping, carrying and properly disposing of the slippery mud off all cave bridges, nailing down rolls of roofing paper to protect bridges for future visitors, transporting and hand carrying 3,000 pounds of steel to build the new cave gate, assisting with construction of the cave gate and cement threshold, installing camera and alarm, as well as clearing debris from land and building.

         Volunteers scrub mud and debris from old bridge

         Volunteers scrub mud and debris from old bridge

  Hauling steel up the slope

  Hauling steel up the slope

MCAL Founder & Steward, Annette F. Reynolds, who is a new member of the NSS and Birmingham Grotto, attended the Grotto’s August meeting to congratulate and thank its members. She told the members that because of their leadership, cave expertise and volunteer efforts, it was possible for the new cave to be built, thus protecting the cave, as well as the public.

hauling steel.jpg

Annette said that she was amazed with this group of dedicated, enthusiastic cavers.

“I felt like Snow White with her merry cavers, who whistled while
they worked.”

For more information about these organizations, visit:

Manitou in ‘peril’ - Times-Journal

Manitou Cave in Fort Payne was a tourist attraction for decades before shutting down in 1979. The cave, with walls lined with Cherokee inscriptions and English language graffiti dating back to the 1820s, fell derelict and became a victim to the city’s progress. “Steve Brewer re-opened the cave,” said John Dersham, president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism. “But, in its more than 100 years it’s (mostly) been open to the public… It closed in (1979), and it’s been closed to the public since then. Basically, the interstate killed traffic on Highway 11, and so the tourism business started in decline.” The cave fell victim to disrepair and vandals took to the cave’s interior to add their own graffiti. Manitou Cave was named one of Alabama’s Places in Peril for the year 2016 as a way to draw attention to the fate that awaited this landmark if nothing was done to save it. The cave’s unique story had lain dormant for decades since its closure. That was, until a Birmingham retiree visited the cave and was drawn to its natural beauty and history. “The cave is really, really unique,” said Annette Reynolds, founder and president of Manitou Cave of Alabama. “When I went through it, I just couldn’t believe it. It was like a living natural museum. Reynolds said she purchased the cave in July 2015 from Brewer through the help of anonymous donors.

A long list of repairs, including an eco-friendly cave gate, was needed for safety and security. Reynolds said the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, of North Carolina, actually helped to secure the gate’s purchase. The cave features these large concrete steps and wooden and steel bridges inside. Leading down the steps is an expansive “ballroom,” which featured electric lights and stayed a perfect 58 degrees throughout the summer months. “Most of the people remember the Boom Days, and this was one of the first big attractions in the state of Alabama,” Reynolds said. “The top of the property had this old railroad bed, and the tourists would come in there and they had steps leading down the cave.” After purchasing the cave, Reynolds said she sent as many as 200 visitors through the newly restored cave gates. “During 2015, I took about 200 people in there from seven different states and four different countries,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “I probably spent about 500 hours of volunteer work helping to do things for this cave. “We had 3,000 pounds of steel, and volunteers there. It took four days to build this cave gate on site.” The load of the work was lessened because of the generosity from the community, Reynolds said. “Everybody was so excited and so willing to help,” Reynolds said. “I’ve just fallen in love with the people of Fort Payne.” Ricky Harcrow, DeKalb County Commission president, said he told Reynolds the commission would do what was necessary to help promote her cause. “I remember going through it as a child before it seemingly disappeared from our landscape,” he said. “I sure hope (Reynolds) is successful in what she’s doing because I’d love to go through it again someday.” There are still repairs left before opening the doors to the public. However, you can inquire about cave tours and visits by emailing Reynolds directly at or by visiting to A capital campaign to restore the abandoned 1950s commercial visitor’s center is underway. Reynolds wants to repurpose it into a sustainable educational center, which will further the knowledge and insight into the cave’s history for generations to come. The cave took its Manitou moniker from an Ojibwa Indian word that translates to “spirit.” That’s what she had been desperate to reclaim. “When I went in there for the first time, something just clicked in me,” Reynolds said. “Something called out to me that this needed to be protected and preserved.”

[Text from Times-Journal - Page1] [Text from Times-Journal - Page2]

Places in Peril Press Release

This place may have seen human activity for 10,000 years, but the past few decades have been tough on the terrain. Manitou Cave of Alabama is a sacred space for the Cherokee. Manitou, an Ojibwa word, means Spirit. It contains inscriptions from the Cherokee syllabary, which was invented by Sequoyah in 1821 while he lived in Willstown, known now as Ft. Payne. The Trail of Tears may have passed below Manitou Cave of Alabama. English language graf ti inside the huge cavern dates as early as 1814. The cave also contains fossils and at least one rare and endangered species, a water snail. In the mid- twentieth century the cave was commercialized and a Mid-Century Modern visitor center was built in 1961. The tourist attraction closed in 1973 and the pavilion was abandoned, but the concrete steps and wood and steel bridges inside the cave are intact and still lead to the “Ballroom” that featured electric lights and natural air conditioning (a constant 58 degrees) in the 1920s.

Current condition of visitor's building

Current condition of visitor's building

Today the pavilion and the picnic area around it are derelict but salvageable. The cave, spring-fed pond, and ten acres are managed by Manitou Cave of Alabama, a newly formed non-proit organization. Since October 2015, a state-of-the-art cave gate has been installed to keep vandals out and to permit easy access for bats. Some brush and debris have been cleaned from the site by cavers and other volunteers, and organized groups have toured the cave, which is on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. Local tourism officials and a respected anthropologist who is familiar with the site have endorsed the importance of protecting this special place, which needs a master site plan, rehabilitation of the visitor center and trail system, and a viable business plan to nance responsible stewardship in perpetuity.

For more information, visit ManitoucaveofAL. org, follow Manitou Cave of AL on Facebook, or contact Annette F. Reynolds, at:

[Text from Places of Peril newsletter]

Join our effort. Please donate TODAY.
one drop at a time...
Follow us on Facebook for our updates, progress, and events.