Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acquires Snail Shell Cave

We are pleased to announce that the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. has completed its purchase of Snail Shell Cave and 88 acres of surrounding karst land and cedar glade near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The $132,000 purchase was closed earlier this week, marking the successful conclusion of an effort that began in 1999.

Snail Shell Cave is one of the most biologically significant cave sites in the Southeastern United States. In 1999, the cave was named one of the Top Ten Most Endangered Karst Communities by the Karst Waters Institute following its nomination by The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee. Primary threats to the cave include trespassing and vandalism, logging, and factors related to the encroaching sprawl and development from the nearby city of Murfreesboro.

Snail Shell is the longest continuous cave in the Tennessee Central Basin region, with more than 9 miles of surveyed passages. It is part of a system of caves comprising more than 13 miles of known passages. The main entrance, which is located on the SCCi property, is a huge sink about 100 feet wide and 200 feet long. The sink is a microhabitat containing and extraordinary number of rare and endangered plant and animal species.

Snail Shell Cave is an important natural resource. It is the intention of the SCCi that it be available to responsible and qualified individuals for exploration, recreation, education, and scientific study, and that SCCi and NSS members, area residents, and members of the caving and scientific communities interact and work together within the larger community of speleology to preserve, enjoy, study, and protect the cave and its ecosystem.

The SCCi Snail Shell Cave Preserve is being managed according to a comprehensive management plan developed last Fall by the Snail Shell Working Group and approved by the SCCi Board at its January meeting in Chattanooga. The Working Group, which had more than 30 participants, was comprised of cavers, conservationists, scientists, and land managers experienced in cave and karst management issues. Key support and assistance were provided by The Nature Conservancy and the State of Tennessee.

Much of the development of the management plan occurred during a three-month period of discussion and interaction facilitated by an email list and a special Snail Shell web page on the SCCi internet server. The group then held an open meeting in Murfreesboro to review and consolidate several draft proposals into a final draft plan which was submitted to the SCCi Board for approval.

At its January 26, 2002 meeting, the SCCi Board approved the proposed plan and established the Snail Shell Preserve Management Committee to implement the plan and manage the preserve. Bob Biddix was appointed Chairman of the management committee.

Management of the cave and the surface area of the preserve is governed by the management plan. For information or access arrangements, contact the management committee at snailshell@scci.org.

Due to a history of abuse of the cave and preserve, and to preserve good relations with our neighbors, the management plan requires advance notification before visiting the cave, and requires that at least one member of any group entering the cave be an SCCi or NSS member. Access is via a gated drive and the only designated parking area is inside the gate. The combination will be provided to visitors when they contact the management committee as required by the plan.

The SCCi is proud of it’s newest acquisition, and is counting on the help and support of the caving community in meeting the stewardship responsibilities that come with ownership of this important cave system. We would like to express our deepest appreciation to all the people who have helped with this acquisition. They are too numerous to name here, but we could not have succeeded without their faith and support.

Both the Snail Shell purchase and the recent Valhalla purchase have been in the works for more than two years. Acquisitions like these are often complex, involving many months of research, negotiation, legal work, fundraising, and financial analysis. Most of this work must be done discreetly and quietly behind the scenes, and can not be reported at grotto meetings, on TAG-Net, or in newsletters until a project is completed.

The SCCi aggressively pursues the acquisition of significant caves throughout the southeast, and has a well-defined mission and plan for cave protection and management. Cave acquisition is our business. Your support, both financial and through volunteer efforts, makes it possible for cavers to acquire, manage, protect, and enjoy southeastern caves.

The SCCi acquisitions committee is currently involved in more than a dozen other pending or potential cave acquisition projects. Our main limitation in pursuing these projects is financial – we have to be sure we can pay for them. We have at present a debt load of more than $230,000, which we service through monthly mortgage payments. Unless we can raise more money, we can not buy more caves until we reduce or pay off that debt. The cold hard truth is that the Conservancy’s greatest need is financial, and that you can best help the Conservancy acquire caves by contributing according to your means and ability.

About 60% to 70% of the money that we use to make our mortgage payments comes from monthly donations by SCCi Sustaining Members. The rest is raised through the SCCi booth at caving events, or by special grants from individuals or organizations.

Please consider joining us as a Sustaining Member, and helping us pay for the caves we all love and enjoy, so that they will be protected forever. For as little as $10 a month you can be a cave owner. For information on SCCi Sustaining Membership, see our web page or contact Sustaining Membership manager Bill Stringfellow at sustaining@scci.org. Regular memberships are also available for $25 per year.

Once again, we thank you for your support. We look forward to making more exciting announcements very soon.

Bill Putnam Chairman, SCCi Snail Shell Task Force Member of the Board, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc.

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Signs Sinking Cove Lease

Fellow Cavers,
The Southeastern Cave Conservancy has signed a caving lease for the Sinking Cove area, re-opening the area to cavers. The lease was signed and delivered on May 17, 2001 and takes effect immediately. The lease is the result of much hard work over many months, and is a substantial commitment of the Conservancy’s financial and other resources. Last February, the entire 16,000-acre Sinking Cove area was closed when the owners leased it to a new management group. The area is now open to permit holders only, with permits being sold for deer and turkey hunting, trail riding, and a few other activities. The number of permits is strictly limited, since the primary use of the area is wildlife management for hunting.

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy (SCCi) negotiated a lease and management agreement to secure caver access to the caves and the campground. The agreement is a sub-lease of caving and camping rights, with associated responsibilities. It is costing SCCi several thousand dollars per year, but gives SCCi access rights and management authority for Sinking Cove Cave, Custard Hollow Cave, and all other caves on the property.

In effect, SCCi has purchased a group permit for the caving community. Cavers are the only user group with this kind of blanket access agreement. All other users will be paying individual permit fees ranging from $300 to $500 per year. This arrangement provides cavers with continued access to the caves and campground area outside of hunting season.

The lease  is a one-year agreement, which may be extended to a longer term if we respect the rules and requirements of the leaseholders and owners. These are embodied in the cave management plan included below and administered by SCCi in cooperation with Deep South Outdoors. If everything works out well our agreement will be extended to a longer term. If there are problems, we may lose access permanently.

Our access is contingent on cavers respecting the rules, becoming part of the team, and helping the owners and leaseholders maintain and protect the property. If we fail to live up to our part of the agreement, the lease may be terminated or not renewed. SCCi is investing a substantial amount of money in this lease, and is depending on the good will and support of all cavers to ensure the success of this arrangement.

If you have any questions about the preserve, the caves, or the management plan you can contact Buddy Lane (blane@scci.org) or Bill Putnam (putnam@scci.org) , who are the members of the SCCi Sinking Cove property management  committee. Additional information is available on the SCCi web site’s Sinking Cove Preserve page.

You are welcome to reproduce and publish this announcement and the accompanying management plan in grotto newsletters and similar publications.

Contributions and donations to help cover the cost of the lease will be very much appreciated.

Bill Putnam Sinking Cove Property Management Committee Southeastern Cave Conservancy putnam@scci.org

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acquires Frick’s Cave

May 16, 1997

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy is pleased to be the owner of Fricks Cave, 10,000 endangered Gray Bats, Georgia’s only known population of the rare Tennessee Cave Salamander, and 33.8 acres of north Georgia karstland. Without a doubt Fricks is Georgia’s richest biologic spelean environment. It is one of two Gray Bat caves in Georgia. The cave is in Walker County on the eastern flank of Lookout Mountain.

Previous attempts to buy the cave were unsuccessful and the cave, along with the entire 426 acre Meadowview Farm, went up for auction on May 10, 1997. We went to the auction and were able to secure a contract on all the tracts that we wanted to get. The bidding was rather fierce, and we had to pay more than we had hoped, but we got what we need to protect the cave and its inhabitants.

The SCC was represented by a delegation consisting of Bill Putnam, Mark Wolinsky, Buddy Lane, E.T. Davis, Kenneth Huffines, Steve Hudson, Diane Cousineau, and Karen Padgett. All of these people, plus Jim Ozier (Georgia Department of Natural Resources), Andrew Schock (Georgia Nature Conservancy), Jim Godwin (Alabama Natural Heritage Program), Kurt Buhlman (University of Georgia), and several others helped make this acquisition possible.

The SCC took ownership at the closing on June 10, 1997. Financing for this acquisition was provided by the Georgia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Additional support was provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Fricks Cave is closed to all visitation due to the presence of the endangered bats and salamanders. Entry into the cave may constitute harrassment as defined in Section 9 of the federal Endangered Species Act and is punishable by imprisonment and fines up to $50,000. Please respect the endangered wildlife in this delicate cave.

The SCCi hosts an annual Open House day at the preserve each winter to allow visitors to tour the cave when the bats are not present. For information about the Open House day or to inquire about access to the cave and preserve, contact the Fricks Cave Management Committee.

The “Buy a Fricks Cave Bat” program generates funds to pay off the mortgage, pay property taxes, and pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the preserve. The purchase price was over $100,000, so we’ve really got to sell a LOT of bats! Your tax deductible $10 donation gets you an honorary certificate of adoption (complete with your own bat’s name) and an SCCI bat decal.

Neversink is ours!

Neversink is Ours!

December 5, 1995

On Tuesday, December 5 1995, the Southeastern Cave Conservancy became the owner of the classic TAG pit, Neversink. The closing was held in Scottsboro, Alabama, with Mark Wolinsky, Bill Putnam, and Buddy Lane representing the SCCi. This event is the culmination of almost three years of work by many SCCi members. It was made possible by the generous support of cavers and organizations throughout the US. We would especially like to thank Pigeon Mountain Industries, the Dogwood City Grotto, the Huntsville Grotto, and the Richmond Area Speleological Society for their early and generous financial support. A large share of the credit for bringing this complicated deal to completion goes to SCCi Acquisitions Chairman Mark Wolinsky, who handled the negotiations and ran down countless details to make it all work.

The total cost of the acquisition was just over $51,000, including legal fees and survey expenses. The SCCi raised $31,000 and borrowed another $20,000 to make the purchase. As a result of a very successful fundraising campaign, the debt was paid in full by October, 1996.

Neversink. Photo by John Van Swearingen, IV.   The Southeastern Cave Conservancy is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the acquisition and management of caves and cave access in the Southeastern US. Membership costs $25 per year and is open to anyone interested in the management and protection of caves. Member dues go directly to buy, lease, and manage caves.

History of the SCCi Neversink Acquisition Neversink is a beautiful 162 foot open air pit in Jackson County Alabama. Long known and loved by TAG cavers, the cave is considered by many to be the classic TAG pit. It is probably the most photographed pit in TAG due to the beautiful fern covered ledges (including some rare and endangered ferns), waterfalls, and other features. The pit is about 40 feet in diameter at the top and bells out to 100 feet in diameter at the bottom. It has been featured in countless slide shows and has been pictured in many publications including the NSS News, various convention guidebooks, and the cover of Bob Thrun’s book Prusiking.

The pit was closed in 1993 due to a change of ownership. The new owner was concerned about liability and about disturbance of the water pipe from the spring above the pit. The spring is the only reliable water supply for a home at the bottom of the mountain.

The SCCi was already in negotiations to buy the pit when it was sold in 1993 to another buyer who bypassed the real estate agent. We then made contact with the new owner and entered into negotiations to buy the pit from him. After much work, an agreement was reached. We began raising money to pay for the cave. At the eleventh hour the owner had second thoughts and decided to sell the land to the person using the spring. We then made contact with that person, and were eventually able to reach a agreement to buy the cave from him in return for a guarantee of a water rights easement for the spring.

In July 1995 the Southeastern Cave Conservancy signed a contract with the owner to purchase the pit. Following a survey of the property and some arrangements regarding parking and walking access, the SCCi completed the purchase and took ownership on December 5, 1995.

Total cost of the purchase was a little over $51,000. The SCCi raised most the money and secured a loan sufficient to allow us to complete the deal. We had six months to pay off the loan at no interest.

At the 1995 TAG Fall Cave In the SCCi kicked off a major new fund raising program for the Neversink Purchase called “Buy a Piece of the Pit”. Similar in organization to the NSS Office Buy a Brick campaign, the plan allows cavers to make a contribution to the SCCi Neversink Fund and receive a complimentary Neversink T-Shirt with a map of the cave and the words “I Bought A Piece of the Pit” plus an honorary certificate of ownership, suitable for framing, which identifies your particular plot on the property. The fund raising program was a major success and allowed us to retire the debt from the purchase in one year.

All contributions are tax deductible in accordance with IRS rules for charitable contributions. The SCCi is a 501-c-3 non-profit tax exempt organization.

Any questions regarding Neversink may be referred to SCCi Neversink Property Manager Jim Hall.

If you would like to support the SCCi by joining as a member, the dues are $25 and should be sent to SCCi Treasurer Buddy Lane, 40 Hidden Brook Lane, Signal Mountain TN 37377.