- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

CUSTER, S.D. (AP) - One of the longest caves in the world has gotten a little bit longer.

Explorations of Jewel Cave in western South Dakota in the past two months have extended the known length of the cave from about 177 miles to a little more than 180 miles, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

Volunteer explorers also discovered two small lakes, the first encountered in the cave. They might be the cave’s intersection with the Madison Aquifer, and more lakes might be found in as-yet unexplored passages, Resource Management Chief Mike Wiles said.

“Remote and pristine, (the lakes) could become a valuable focus for future hydrological and microbiological studies,” Wiles said in a statement.

Jewel Cave National Monument is 13 miles west of Custer, about an hour’s drive from Rapid City. It’s considered the third-longest known cave in the world, according to the Park Service. It’s also home to nine bat species, including the rare Townsend’s big-eared bat.

The cave also is getting an upgraded visitor center. Work began in August on a $671,000 expansion project that will provide more room for environmental education, including classrooms, theater space and educational display space. The project is scheduled to be completed in February.

Jewel Cave was established as a national monument in 1908. Its parking area was upgraded last year at a cost of $2.5 million, and the Park Service worked with the state Transportation Department to rebuild a dangerous, winding stretch of U.S. Highway 16 leading to the site.


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