Five unexpected things hidden in Kansas City’s massive caves

Photo courtesy of Ability KC.

Above the surface, there are plenty of places to explore in Kansas City, but few know what lies below their feet—as deep as one hundred and sixty feet below, in fact. The limestone shelf that Kansas City sits on and the rivers and springs that flow here have built a network of limestone caves that have provided storage and businesses for generations. There’s a living city of activity just below our noses. Here are the five unique things you will find in the caves.

1. Paintballers firing away

Home to the first and only underground paintball field in the world, Jaegers Subsurface Paintball (9300 N.E. Underground Drive, KCMO) houses eight of its fields in the Northland, not far from the Ameristar Casino. The novelty of the caves has attracted customers since Jaegers opened in 1994, says marketing manager Erick Eaton. Each field has various obstacles, including oil drums, paint-splattered old cars and cave pillars for cover, with the ability to accommodate large teams and hours of underground fun.

2. The world’s best stamp collection

Sitting in the only underground United States Postal Service facility in the country is the Stamp Fulfillment Services center. Known as the Stamp Cave, it has a collection unlike any other, with millions of rare and commemorative stamps. The cave’s consistent temperatures—around sixty degrees year-round and low humidity—make it a perfect location to maintain quality prior to purchase from collectors all over the world. Because of the stamps’ value, the specific location is top-secret, and a high level of security is in place to guard them.

3. A winter road race

Down in the caves, there is no trace of the harsh Kansas City chill during the winter months. Instead, there is a constant fall-like temperature all year long. This makes a perfect location for the Groundhog Run 5K and 10K races put on by Ability KC in January. Participants run through the paved tunnels of the SubTropolis caves (8760 N.E. Underground Drive, KCMO), a company owned by the Hunt family—one of the nation’s wealthiest—whose other holdings include the Chiefs.

4. An original print from your favorite movie

The original film reels of beloved movies and television shows are held in Kansas City by a special underground branch of the National Archives (8600 N.E. Underground Drive, KCMO). Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and cartoons from as far back as the 1940s are among the holdings of the Kansas City Federal Records Center. Without the proper conditions, these classic pieces of history would be lost to a type of film rot called “vinegar syndrome,” according to Jeff Ollenburger, who helps to manage the underground vault and storage. Thanks to the caves, these treasured pieces will be around for future generations. The vault where these timeless pieces lie is not open to the public for security purposes.  

5. A distillery

Underneath Parkville is a unique business that few know about—but many have probably tasted their product one time or another. What is deemed by owners Lisa and Steve Strong as “the world’s only known distillery in a cave sixty-five feet underground” comes SD Strong Distilling (8500 N.W. River Park Drive, #136a, Parkville). The company was founded in 2012, first with its signature bottle of vodka and later bourbon, gin and whiskey, all bottled with the slogan “Made in a Cave.”

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