where John Ackerman lives sit above limestone bedrock. "And
where there is limestone, "he says, "there are
caves. And what I'm good at - and known for in the caving
community-is discovering caves."
speaking this involves finding a sinkhole, excavating it with
a backhoe, and blasting a way in using explosives - methods
that have elicited criticism from caving purists. "With
John its quicker for him to blast in than find another way",
says Blaze Cunningham, secretary of the Minnesota Speleoogical
Survey. To be fair he adds, "there is a way of justifying
some of it."
or not, there is no disputing Ackerman's passion for discovering
and preserving caves. Since the early 1990s Ackerman, 51, has
been buying up property in Fillmore County, where one small
town, Fountain, Minnesota, bills itself as the "sinkhole
capital of the world." Last year Ackerman opened the 27th
cave on the 500 acres he now owns. "You never know when
you open a cave just what you are going to find," he says. "I
once found a raging river and, another time, a room big enough
to hold a house."
of my caves," Ackerman says with paternal pride, "goes
for more than five miles; two-thirds of that is large passageways."
though he's had his share of close calls - Ackerman nearly
drowned when a passage he was scuba diving became blocked -
nothing has diminished the thrill of being first to enter a
secret world that he, alone, discovered.