Wisconsin welcomed a newcomer to the area from Unity, Maine in August 2018 to hold an executive managerial position at the ever-growing Crystal Cave in Spring Valley.
2016 Unity College graduate Stephanie Tardiff said since moving here and settling in to her caving- and ecological-central career, she has loved it and doesn't plan to leave soon.
"I am really enjoying it. People are really friendly. I'm used to rural areas too, so Spring Valley was a nice transition being from Maine," Tardiff said. "This is the first time for me to pick up my roots and go somewhere else. I get to work in a cave which is pretty great. It's such a unique position and just hits home with all of my passions of what I love to do."
Tardiff is one of almost 30 full- and part-time employees at the tourist site, and her new manager position has played a part in Crystal Cave's largest facilities expansion since its opening in 1942.
"We are excited to have Stephanie join our Executive Team. She has been instrumental in helping us navigate our facilities expansion," Executive Director Eric McMaster said.
Tardiff said she finds it exciting that Crystal Cave is implementing a new bathroom building, Tee-Rex Mini Golf and interpretive prairie trails for tourists to enjoy more time on the grounds.
"We really like to take into account comments that our guests leave for us. People were always asking about more to do here. We have our nature trail, gem panning, an area to walk around and our tour, but they still wanted more," Tardiff said.
The new bathroom building was finished over the winter and the mini golf grounds will be completed before the summer season is in full swing.
"Personally I'm really excited for the prairie. It's so crucial for native species to have habitat and helps with removing invasive plant species from the area and the deer are already loving it," Tardiff said.
Along with looking forward to seeing the prairie become more established as seasons pass, Tardiff said she wants to stay long enough at Crystal Cave to see the bat population make a comeback.
In the past three years, the local bats have suffered from White-Nose Syndrome, a fungus spreading throughout North America with European origins. The fungus irritates the bats and causes them to wake during hibernation, depleting fat storage useful for survival in the wintertime which leads to starvation.
"Before the fungus got to Crystal Cave we had about 800 bats here and I never got to see that. It's in its third year of being here now. Last season when I came here there was a drastic decrease so I never saw even 100 of them. This year when the Department of Natural Resources came through to count how many bats were left, there were only a few dozen left. I heard it was amazing when there was 800 bats here," Tardiff said.
Throughout her time at the caving company, Tardiff said she is always looking forward to educating the public.
"I really enjoy educating the public about conservation and the environment. We get to do that here with our prairie that we're establishing and the caves and the bats and pollinator gardens. There's so much to talk to the public about which I really love doing," Tardiff said.
Despite missing her family and the ocean on the east coast, the location of Spring Valley has allowed her to explore and keep busy, Tardiff said.
Trips to the Mall of America, the nearby Minnesota cities and many Wisconsin state parks on her time off has allowed Tardiff to become accustomed to her surroundings.
"My family has yet to come out here and visit but they really want to after all they've heard about the place. I have felt really welcomed here," Tardiff said.