In the late 1980s, large parts of beautiful southeastern landscapes started to get closed to recreational access and threatened by development. A small group of caving enthusiasts started talking about how to protect a beautiful and pristine part of the landscape that many people don’t think much about: caves.
The Southeastern Cave Conservancy was the brainchild of Jeff and Alexis Harris, two long-time cave conservation activists from Georgia. In 1991, they called together a group of about 20 caving enthusiasts to discuss the idea of starting a cave conservancy. Back then, the idea that cave explorers could come together to buy and manage large numbers of caves seemed reasonable, but they also knew that a conservancy would require huge sums of money and a vast amount of volunteer labor.
After that first meeting, everyone agreed to move forward. After more planning meetings, the newly formed Southeastern Cave Conservancy received official 501(c)3 status in November of 1991. At first, the small group thought that the way the new conservancy would actually own caves would be through donations, conservation easements, or maybe leases. The small group of leaders thought they might be able to afford to actually buy a cave every once in a while, just as long as the property didn’t cost too much.
The group has been much more successful than the founders could have imagined. Over 20 years later, the SCCi owns over $2 million in property, owns 23 cave preserves, manages several more caves, and manages over 140 caves through six southeastern states. How did the SCCi founders do it?
The SCCi was lucky in its early years. The founders benefited from good advice and guidance from many people and organizations. They modeled the new group after the Nature Conservancy and sought that group’s advice for how to be successful. They also got lucky right away when a local caver donated a very popular cave in Trenton, GA, Howard’s Waterfall Cave, to the fledgling conservancy. This great donation set the stage for many other good projects in the years to come.
After getting started, the new board started to talk about a good first project. Many in the group were very fond of Fox Mountain in Rising Fawn, GA, and the wonderful caves hidden under the mountain’s craggy surface. The only problem was the property potentially for sale was over 300 acres– hefty acreage with a hefty price tag.
As the group pondered whether or not to try to buy Fox Mountain, the board got word that one of the most beautiful and popular caves in the southeast, Neversink, was for sale. The board knew they had a better chance of paying for the 86 acres at Neversink, so they decided to go for it. It took three years to actually purchase the property.
During the Neversink negotiations, the SCCi got another boost from the donation of a small cave in Huntsville, AL: Glove Pit. Now, the SCCi owned two caves! Finally, on Tuesday, December 5 1995, the Southeastern Cave Conservancy became the owner of the classic Neversink. The closing was held in Scottsboro, AL, with Mark Wolinsky, Bill Putnam, and Buddy Lane representing the SCCi.
The purchase of Neversink put the SCCi on the map. People who were previously skeptical of a cave conservancy became enthusiastic about the group’s mission and goals. People jumped on board to help the group pay off the $50,000 mortgage. Over $30,000 was raised before the closing. The remaining $20,000 was financed by a loan from an anonymous supporter. The loan amount was raised and repaid in less than six months. In all, more than 400 people donated money to the project and became honorary owners of a “piece of the pit.”
After such a success, the group moved on to other projects. Over the years, the SCCi raised money to purchase other famous southeastern caves such as Kennamer Cave, Limrock Blowing, Valhalla, and Fern Cave’s Surprise Pit. The SCCi also ended up buying a large tract of land on Fox Mountain and some hugely popularly caves. For some caves that weren’t available for purchase, like Sinking Cove Cave, we worked out long-term lease agreements so our members could visit the beautiful property and caves.
After more than 20 years in business, the SCCi owns some of the most beloved caves in the southeast. We bought our favorite caves to make sure that future generations will be able to enjoy visiting some of the most beautiful places in the southeast. We also bought and now protect some of the most important bat habitats, caves with spectacular biodiversity, and important watersheds. We provide opportunities for not just cave exploration, but for hiking, photography, camping, and scientific study.
Please join us!