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Spelunking junkie: Underground with Minnesota’s ‘cave collector’

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The New York Times has a fresh take on the pursuits of underground explorer John Ackerman – Minnesota’s “cave collector.”

Ackerman is believed to be the largest private cave owner in Minnesota and possibly the nation, although it’s hard to know for sure because not all his caves have been fully explored, the Times reports.

Ackerman, who makes his home in the Twin Cities, has been spelunking in southeast Minnesota since the 1980s, plumbing the earth’s depths in a quest to acquire more caves, the Times reports. Among his favorites is the Minnesota Cave Preserve, actually six caves that run collectively over 40 miles.

In 2008, Ackerman and some friends discovered a prehistoric stag moose antler and a saber-tooth cat skull – among the most significant paleontological discoveries in the Upper Midwest in years, the Star Tribune reported.

In a 2007 profile in Minnesota Monthly magazine – an article that asks: Is bad-boy caver John Ackerman saving Minnesota caves—or destroying them? – Ackerman talks about finding a 1989 crevice that he couldn’t get through. Not one to just move on, he bought the property, blew up the slot and became the first person to see the caves that lay beneath.

Ackerman has taken tumbles into underground pits, barely escaped crushing rock falls, gotten lost in subterranean tunnels and nearly drowned in underground rivers, the profile notes.

“You wonder why haven’t more caves been opened up?” he says in the profile.. “Well, I’ll tell you why, because people value their lives.”

Ackerman has used backhoes and explosives to blast his way into caves, which has drawn some criticism from caving purists, National Geographic Adventure magazine noted in a December 2005 article that named him among the year’s top adventurers. He says the thrill of caving comes from the discovery of new underground worlds.

“You never know when you open a cave just what you are going to find,” he told the publication. “I once found a raging river, and, another time, a room big enough to hold a house.”

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