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Eco-Tourism: The Preservation of Crystal Cave in Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Updated: Jul 1

Whether it’s snow-glazed mountains, lush green forests, or calcite caves, the environment around us is the main attraction of many tourist destinations across the globe. However, tourism has led to the degradation of many popular areas, negatively impacting habitats and economies worldwide in the most extreme cases. This is not only a result of tourist interactions with the environment, but also poor site management.

Eco-tourism offers a sustainable solution, as it prioritizes sustainability and supports the preservation of tourist destinations. Crystal Cave, located in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, showcases the successful implementation of modern preservation and sustainability practices. Crystal Cave not only admits, but uses its past environmental errors as an opportunity to educate and advocate for environmental awareness and protection.


The Cave’s Origins

Crystal Cave opened to the public on May 25, 1872 after being purchased by Samuel D. F. Kohler for $5,000 that same year. After over 150 years of tours, much has changed inside of the cave. This includes updates to lighting, new steps, and railings, but the most notable of all have been the changes to the original formations found in the cave. The stalactites (hanging formations produced by the precipitation of minerals from water dripping through a cave ceiling) and stalagmites (upward-growing deposits of minerals that have precipitated from water dripping onto the floor of a cave) within have been impacted greatly by the lack of knowledge tourists had during the late 17th and early 18th century.

The Degradation of Crystal Cave

Stalagmites & Stalactites

While touring Crystal Cave’s sites, you are given a brief history of the many environmental mishaps that have taken place with the walls of the cave. These stories detail the destruction of formations that took millions of years to form. Many calcite structures have receded and stopped growing altogether due to human intervention.

If you are touring Crystal Cave you may notice the blunt edges of certain formations as you pass by. This is no natural phenomenom; in the past tourists were once able to take chunks of the formations home with them as souvenirs. At the time, tourists and managers of the cave were not aware that these formations took millions of years to form, and would take millions of years to regenerate. As a result, visitors can no longer take keepsakes out of the cave, nor are they allowed to touch the formations.

In the past, tourists could freely touch stalagmites and other formations in the cave, until it was discovered that they were “killing” the formations by doing so. The oils on our hands were found to create a barrier that prevents the formations from growing, as they block dissolved minerals from continuing to build up on the current deposit. In footage as late as the 1950s, you can see people touching famous formations as a way of advertisement. That same video also features a dog walking over another famous formation site. While the “no touching” rule is now heavily enforced, there is one exception in the cave where tourists are actually encouraged to touch the remains of a stalagmite that had to be removed due to a safety issue it caused in the tour path.


Before electricity was introduced into the cave, tour guides had to use alternative methods of lighting. Guides would light oil-soaked rags and toss them towards the ceiling of the cave to illuminate certain formations for visitors. This has caused some discoloration of the cave ceiling that is still visible to this day.

Large Events

Many events have been held inside of the “ballroom,” one of the most open spaces found in the cave. On October 15, 1919, a wedding between Marion I. Kurtz and Francis J. Finley was held inside of Crystal Cave. One of the formations was decorated with flowers and used as an altar and the “Bridal Chorus” was played on a piano that was hauled inside of the cave.

On December 4, 1949, the first baptism in a cave in Pennsylvania was performed, using water from a small natural pool within the cave. These disturbances of the natural processes occurring inside of the cave have led to changes over time that have negatively affected the preservation of the natural formations. However, in more recent years, the staff at Crystal Cave have taken significant steps to make up for the degradation of the site in the past 150 years.

Preservation Efforts

The most effective solution to preserving the current condition of Crystal Cave is simply keeping it clean. Each winter the cave undergoes a thorough shutdown for extensive cleaning to prevent any unwanted bacterial growth and to remove any remaining footprint of human activity. This procedure ensures that formations are able to continue growing undisturbed.

The education of visitors woven within the tours is another tool the staff use to raise awareness regarding sustainable tourism practices. Some environmental advocates argue that visiting sites like this should not be permitted at all, but it is through experiences like these that the average person is able to gain a new appreciation and curiosity for the world’s wonders.



Crystal Cave’s troubling beginnings in the 17th century caused the degradation of natural formations like stalagmites and stalactites that took millions of years to form. After 150 years of tours, the staff in the Crystal Caves have developed a deeper understanding of how human interactions impact the formations in the cave. Today, the staff at Crystal Cave have used the mistreatment of the natural site as a lesson for current visitors and have implemented practices to preserve the cave’s current conditions for years to come!

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Author: Cassidy Fisher

Editor: Alexa Segovia


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