St. Paul police warn against exploring caves near Mississippi - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

St. Paul police warn against exploring caves near Mississippi

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

People have been exploring the caves along the Mississippi River in St. Paul for years, but officials are warning people to stay out after two men were caught trespassing earlier this week.

The caves have housed everything from haunted houses to hangouts for gangsters after prohibition. More recently, they've been places for young people to explore and party in -- but St. Paul police and fire officials say they're dangerous and going inside could be a deadly mistake.

"Basically, we go in to get an idea of the history people don't know about," explained Donald Hartmann.

Hartmann climbs cell towers for a living, so he is used to living dangerously -- but hanging out in the caves overlooking the Mississippi River near downtown St. Paul turned out to be a little more than he bargained for.

"That's the reason we came up, because our cell phones didn't work and that was scary," Hartmann said. "Didn't want to get stuck down there."

Hartmann told FOX 9 News he and a friend snuck into one of the caves along Crosby Farm Road through a secret manhole cover on Tuesday Night. They explored the extensive network of tunnels for about an hour and a half until they were met by two officers as they prepared to leave.

"Who knows what's in these caves? That's the draw, may be why people go exploring -- but when you go exploring, you take your life in your own hands sometimes," warned St. Paul Police Department spokesman Howie Padilla.

St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard closed the cave about 15 years ago after two of the three entrances to a haunted house called "The Tunnel of Terror" collapsed. While the caves have housed everything from mushroom farms to breweries and speakeasies over the years, Zaccard said three teenagers died after overcome by carbon monoxide in one nearly nine years ago.

"It's fun to explore, I agree, but it's also dangerous and you never know if something is going to happen to you in there," Zaccard told FOX 9 News. "If something happens to you in there, it's dangerous to get you out."

Hartmann said the area of the cave he explored has sometimes welcomed up to 60 adventurous people along an area of the cave known as the "Stairway to Heaven," which is lit by candles on carved-out steps; however, he is not ready to follow those footsteps.

"I would suggest not going down there. The cops know best," he said. "They gave us other options to go. I could look for other options instead of the caves because they are pretty dangerous."

Police say anyone caught in the cave could be charged with trespassing or criminal damage to property.

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