DANVILLE, Mo. — Most of the time, Graham Cave is a quiet historical site where the normal events of Mother Nature take place.
On Saturday, however, the ancient cave will resonate with human activity celebrating Archaeology Day 2017, revealing some secrets of Missouri's past inhabitants.
"This is going to be new for me," said Vergial "Cade" Harp, superintendent of Graham Cave State Park. "There will be things for everybody to do."
Activities will be hosted 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in front of the cave and at the lower picnic area. The day will kick off with an informational session. Demonstrations on flint knapping (or shaping), deer bone fish hooks and atlatl (spear and dart) throwing will be offered, as well as storytelling, nature hikes and tours, and children's events.
Also joining the day is Lorie Hetrick-Volenberg, a former park volunteer who is now the park's new natural resource specialist.
"She's so talented," Harp said of Volenberg. "She has so much knowledge about plants."
She recently discovered a patch of running buffalo clover, unknown in the 386-acre park before now. It's an endangered species.
"She's so passionate about what she does, and we're really fortunate to have her," Harp added.
The park is sited along the Loutre River and is so quiet it's hard to believe Interstate 70 is just a short hop away. The cave itself is named for settler Robert Graham, who bought bottomland along the river in 1816 from Daniel Boone's son, Daniel Morgan Boone. He added on the parcel containing the cave in 1847, and the property remained in the Graham family until they transferred it to the state of Missouri in 1964.
The cave occasionally housed the family's livestock. Graham's son, D.F. Graham, became interested in archaeology and the artifacts he found in the cave. His son, Benjamin, gave the artifacts to the University of Missouri where they remain under study, Harp said.
Between 1949-55, the university and the state Archaeological Society conducted extensive excavations. Findings revealed different periods of human use of the cave dating back 10,000 years. A ring of stones encircling a larger stone was believed to have been a ceremonial circle.
"If I was a Native American, this is the place I'd want to be," Harp said. "I mean, why would you leave it?"
In 1961, Graham Cave was the first archaeological site in the United States to be designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1966, more excavations were done and the site was cleaned up and preserved.
Much of the cave itself is behind a locked fence but within sight, and the park offers other attractions. There is camping, scattered picnic sites, a restroom with hot showers and a boat ramp on the Loutre River.
Also expected to be available Saturday is Matt Harris, a maintenance worker for the park with a strong connection.
"He's actually a descendant of the Graham family," Harp said. "He knows the history as much as anyone."
While the park doesn't have a formal "friends" group, it does have a group of helpful fans.
"The park means different things to different people," Harp said. "It's right by the highway, but it's just a little gem that people blow by."
Five trails include one rated "rugged" and several "moderate."
"The 21/2 miles of trails meander and wind throughout the back country and by the Loutre River," added Harp, who formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.
There is a large glade, and park officials are working to restore a natural prairie. People may hear barred owls and whippoorwills, and see young fawn deer and red and gray foxes.
They won't see bears, but they might see ticks and snakes.
"I have not seen a rattlesnake since I've been here," Harp said. "There are 22 or 23 species of snakes, including copperheads. You have to be careful."
There might be a bat or two around, as well.
"We need to do more for them," Harp said. "They use this area as a maternity roost, but they're not in the cave. It's not the right habitat for them, but they do roost in trees."
Attendance to the park — which recently hosted 1,000 visitors, for the total solar eclipse — is free.
"They filled the campground," Harp said. "We set up viewing areas, too."
The cave also was visited recently by a group of Native Americans traveling across the country. They smudged the cave and said they felt comfortable there.
"And it felt really good having them here," he said.
Saturday is also being designated a "public information day," and as such, visitors will be asked for feedback.
"We're looking for public comment about the park and suggestions for the upcoming year," Harp said.
The Missouri park system is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and state park officials recently introduced a centennial Passport program. To complete the passport, participants must obtain a stamp from the 88 state parks and historic sites by Oct. 31. The first 1,000 to do so will receive a Centennial backpack sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, and all will be entered into a drawing for one of five Missouri State Park vacation packages. For more information, visit mostateparks.com/passport.
"In 2016, we had about 81,000 visitors," Harp said. "I'd be surprised if it's not a lot higher this year."
To reach Graham Cave State Park, get off I-70 at exit 170 and head on Route TT north of the interchange. Follow about 2 miles until TT dead-ends at the park. Call 573-564-3476 for more information.