Finding the Coldwater Cave
The cold water cave was discovered in the fall of 1967 by two University of Iowa geology students, David Jagnow and Steve Barnett. These young men were hardening cavers and had explored caves in many other areas around the country. They felt that the geology of northeastern Iowa was similar to the geology in Kentucky where the Mammoth Cave was discovered sometime earlier. They explored northeastern Iowa for about 5 years with out finding anything. In 1967 they were directed to ColdWater Spring, Iowa. Coldwater spring is a very scenic spot about a mile north of the upper Iowa River in the northwestern counter of Winneshiek county about 3-4 miles northeast of the little town of Kendallville. The spring gushes out of the base of a high cliff from a deep recess. The creek that comes out, is actually contributory of Coldwater Creek that flows into upper Iowa.
Jagnow and Barnett went and on the spur of the moment Barnett took off his shirt and slipped into the pool at the base of the cliff where the spring came out. He slipped in feet first and reached back as far as he could with his feet, trying to feel if there was any obstruction back there. The water was extremely cold with a year around temperature of about 48 degrees. He had pulled himself out before he had gone in very far. It would have been too dangerous to processed any further. He just simply shoved his feet under and on about the third try he went under all the way and felt his way back into the spring. He had no rope and was completely unprepared for what he was doing.
When I talked to him he had told me subsequently that he became disoriented while he was in the cold water. So, instead of pushing his way back out he pushed his way further in and luckily came up in a small room that was in back of the cliff. This room is about uh the size of an average living room. The floor was mud and the creek flowed through it. The walls and the celling were all rock uh its dimly lighted by water that refracts though the spring form the outside. Steve was able to dive back through he springs and come out in the spring guided by the light. So that was the initial discovery of the cold water cave.
This was in the fall of 1967. They really just had no idea of what the extent of the cave might be after that initial dive. So they went back to Iowa city and acquired wet suites and scuba diving equipment; air tanks and mask and all the necessary equipment for diving under water. Sometime later they went back to the cave, probably in the early spring of 1968 and made an exploratory dive with their air tanks. They pushed their way through a series of rooms, perhaps not even quarter mile of passage way, then decided they had enough for that trip and came back out. On the third trip they want all the way in. On the third trip they came to a place where the ceiling of the cave gradually rolls up out of the water. By shouting, hearing and listening for the returning echo they got the distinct impression that they were faced with very extensive cavern. They used up their air, or as much as their air that they dared to use, and came back out.