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 graffiti 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.
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-profit 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 finance responsible stewardship in perpetuity.