One after the other, layered calcite mineral build upon each other to form limestone caves, a process that is perfectly orchestrated by Mother Nature herself. On top, the abundant wildlife flourishes above on the bluffs. Each square inch provides a thriving habitat for the animals that call this cave home.

This scene is widely viewed by many enthusiast all across the Natural State. However, there is something drastically different about this particular cave in Benton County. It is not found hiking the hills of a state park, or hidden beneath rock sediments. This cave is actually found inside a former church.

This art installation by local Becky Christenson can be found inside Watershed Sanctuary in Cave Springs, Arkansas. After the Illinois River Watershed Partnership (IRWP) received a Walton Family Foundation challenge grant, partners joined together to acquire the vacant church in hopes of using the building for the greater good. Today, the once-dilapidated house of worship has been since converted into the Watershed Learning Center and serves to revitalize watershed education, thriving from conservation projects.

When asked about the cave Christenson said, “My favorite aspect is seeing the children learning and having fun crawling through the tunnel in the cave. As an artist, I hope to give joy to others through my art. With the cave, thousands have and thousands more will enjoy it in the future. That makes me happy.”

The success of the installation was significantly influenced by the dedication of local partners. After a drawing plan was presented by Christenson herself to Delia Haak, Executive Director of the IRWPA, a grant given by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and the Arkansas Arts Council allowed Christenson to begin the installation in February of 2014.

“In the beginning it was the magnitude of building a cave,” Christenson confesses when asked if there were any apprehensions. “Later on, my biggest concern was to make the steps into the tunnel strong enough to take years worth of climbing.”

10344399_10152663467664121_5861216744235391416_oThe artist used a wide variety of sculpting methods and materials. The frame of the cave was built from spray foam insulation and EPS foam while cement, sand and clay lay on top. While the cave is not found outside among the rocky limestone terrain of the hilltops, many believe the elaborate construction argues otherwise.

According to Christenson, future plans to work with the IRWP are already underway, as she continues her Artist-In-Residence for the next two years. The artist also designs activities for the Art and Nature camp for children who attend the Learning Center in the summer.

Currently, Christenson is packing her easel, palette and supplies in her bike basket and heading outdoors to create a series of paintings on the trails called “Latitude & Longitude” with each one named after the GPS coordinates to promote the beauty of the area and create additional awareness for the NWA trails and the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. She will donate 20% of the proceeds from the sale of these paintings  to the IRWP. She is blogging about her adventures on her website.

VISIT:  irwp.org/about-irwp/watershed-sanctuary-and-learning-center/