Southeastern Cave Conservancy Buys Wolf River Cave, Establishes 22-Acre Preserve

We are pleased to announce that the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc., in partnership with The Nature Conservancy , Tennessee Chapter (TNC) and Bat Conservation International (BCI), has purchased Wolf River Cave and 33 acres of surrounding karst land near Jamestown in Fentress County Tennessee. The cave and surrounding property were part of a family farm that was sold at auction on July 20, 2002. Our cave conservation partnership was able to outbid other potential buyers with a winning bid for the cave tract of $74,000. The purchase was completed on Friday, August 16, in Cookeville ,Tennessee, when SCCi Chair Diane Cousineau and Treasurer Buddy Lane delivered the check and signed the papers. The SCCi now holds title to the property and will manage it under a joint agreement with TNC.

Wolf River Cave is more than eight miles long and is one of the most significant caves in North America in terms of its biology, anthropology, archeology and zoology. According to Jan F. Simek, professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Wolf River Cave contains the oldest known human footprints found in the dark zone of a cave. Also preserved in the cave are extinct Jaguar tracks and skeletons.

The cave also contains Tennessee’s second-largest hibernation colony of the rarest endangered bat species in the Southeast – the Indiana bat. According to a survey conducted by Tennessee Technological University, the winter colony numbers between 2,400 and 2,500 bats. One of the first species to be placed on the federal endangered species list, Indiana bats hibernate in caves from September through early April. The cave is also known to house a small number of federally listed endangered Gray Bats in the summer, as well as a few Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bats. In addition, cavers have reported observing blind crayfish and cave beetles.

The Nature Conservancy , Tennessee Chapter and SCCi operate under a Memorandum of Understanding for joint projects involving caves and cave protection in Tennessee.  Along with its other goals and objectives, the ability to act quickly and in concert to purchase caves in immediate danger is one reason the MOU was implemented.  In a land auction participants often have little time to prepare and prices can soar above appraised values.  This important acquisition would not have taken place without the financial assistance of TNC and Bat Conservation International.  Gabby Call, Director of Protection for TNC’s Tennessee Chapter, and Jim Kennedy, Assistant Director of BCI’s North American Bat Conservation Partnership, were instrumental in securing the necessary financial support and in forging a successful partnership among the three organizations.

Over the past 5 years, TNC has invested significant conservation efforts toward the protection of Wolf River Cave, a Nature Conservancy eco-region priority site. Discussions with the landowners to protect the bats began in 1998 and continued for several years. The primary concern for the cave has always been protection of the endangered Indiana bats that hibernate there in the winter. In March 1999, Heather Garland – Cave Program Coordinator, and Gabby Call – Director of Land Acquisition, both with the The Nature Conservancy , Tennessee Chapter, forged a Cooperative Management Agreement between the Pile family heirs, TNC, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA), and the Upper Cumberland Grotto (UCG). Later that summer cavers discovered a grisly massacre. Someone callously knocked approximately 40 bats, including many Indiana bats, off of the wall and killed them. As an emergency reaction to this incident, funding was secured from several partners including US Fish and Wildlife Service, BCI, and the Wallace Research Foundation, and the cave entrance was gated.

While TNC made significant progress in protecting the bats, there was still no permanent protection for the cave. Ownership of the property was distributed among eight family members, complicating the discussions. When agreement on the disposition of the farm could not be reached, the family decided to sell it at auction. TNC prepared to try to purchase the cave at auction, and received offers of assistance from BCI and the SCCi. TNC and SCCi researched land values and agreed on a joint bidding strategy for the auction.

The farm being auctioned was 474 acres divided into 28 separate parcels for bidding. Bidding for the 33-acre cave tract opened at $50,000 and climbed higher as several bidders competed. The SCCi won the bidding at $74,000, backed by a TNC contribution of $30,836 and a $10,000 commitment from Bat Conservation International. Even though we won the bidding at $74,000 we could have still lost because at the end of the auction the entire farm is offered as a whole to the highest bidder. The situation was truly nail-biting. Fortunately, no one came forward to buy the farm as a whole.

Wolf River Cave will continue to be managed by the Wolf River Management Committee of the Upper Cumberland Grotto (UCG) of the National Speleological Society in conjunction with the SCCi and the TNC.  The management policy and procedures currently in place are not expected to undergo any major changes. Currently, the Wolf River Management Committee (WRMC) members are: Kristen Bobo, Chair, with Anthony Olberding, James Greene, and Nora Dickinsas Cave Managers. Permission is required to enter the cave, which is open from May through August.

The current management plan, access procedures, policies, and contacts for the Wolf River Cave Preserve may be found on the SCCi web site preserves page. Access to the cave for 2002 ended on September 16, 2002, with the beginning of the bat hibernation season.  Wolf River Cave will continue to be managed to allow access in the spring and summer but will remain closed to visitation during the winter months to protect the hibernating bats.

The SCCi Directors are very exited about this cooperative effort to protect one of Tennessee’s most significant caves. We are counting on the help and support of the caving community in meeting the financial and stewardship responsibilities that come with ownership of this important cave. As you know, SCCi recently purchased Snail Shell Cave in Tennessee and Valhalla Cave in Alabama. Acquiring these three fantastic preserves in the same year has severely depleted our operating cash, increased our debt load to the highest level since we began purchasing caves, and significantly reduced our ability to act quickly in situations like the Wolf River Cave auction. We need your help to get back to full strength, so that we are able to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

In another sense, however, this is not entirely a bad thing, because it provides a yardstick for measuring our success in carrying out our mission! 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.

Our main limitation in pursuing these projects is financial – we have to be sure we can pay for them. Before the Wolf River Cave auction, we had a debt load of more than $250,000, which we service through monthly mortgage payments. After the contributions from TNC and BCI for the purchase of Wolf River Cave, we have still increased this amount by more than $33,000 to a total of over $283,000. This figure covers only the mortgage amounts and does not include expenses such as surveys, title work, property maintenance, insurance, or other monthly operating expenses.

Right now we have more than a dozen more great caves either in negotiation or under consideration for acquisition. Unless we can raise more money, we can not buy more caves until we reduce or pay down our debt. Our greatest need is therefore financial, and 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 SCCi as a Sustaining Member, and helping to pay for the caves we all love and enjoy. For as little as $10 a month you can be a cave owner. Regular memberships are also available for $25 per year.

The following links provide information about our partners in the purchase of Wolf River Cave:

The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Chapter nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/tennessee/

Bat Conservation International, Inc. www.batcon.org/

New Kiosk at Gourdneck Cave

On Saturday, July 27th, 2002 a crew of four met at Gourdneck Cave. Jim “Master Builder” Wilbanks brought a kiosk that was originally designed by Kenneth Huffines and built by Bill Fritz and himself. Bill “It’s Level Now” Fritz assisted Jim with the construction and assembly. Mark “Needs a Better Knife” Wolinsky helped dig holes and carry water. Wm “Too hot out for me” Shrewsbury cleared the weeds.

Once Jim, Bill, Mark and Wm had dug the holes and pounded rock the kiosk was set in place. Jim poured a bag of concrete around each post, and Mark added water and set the process in motion.

While they waited for the concrete to do its job, Wm went into Gourdneck Cave and retrieved a section of ladder from the bottom of the plunge pool at the second waterfall. It took a couple of ‘dives’ to work the ladder loose. Turns out that the ladder is 16″ wide, the same as the entrance ladders, and can serve as a replacement for them. A new register was placed in the register container. Hopefully this one will not wander off like the last one did…

Back outside Wm found that the concrete was setting nicely and the Kiosk Crew were ready to go eat. Mark was kind enough to offer to buy us all lunch so we took him up on it!

by William Shrewsbury

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acquires Holly Creek Cave

Nashville/Atlanta – The Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi) and The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee (TNC) have pooled their resources to buy an important Gray bat cave in Wayne County, Tennessee.

The Holly Creek Cave Preserve near Iron City, Tenn. has been purchased from Forest Systems, Inc., a forest management company that operates and manages forestland across the United States on behalf of large institutional investors, including pension funds.  The Preserve is managed as a natural area and wildlife sanctuary to protect and preserve its unique attributes, including an important summer colony of endangered bats.

According to Mark Wolinsky, Acquisitions Chairman for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc., The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee and the SCCi have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to share resources and expertise in joint cave conservation projects.  The preserve is being managed to preserve and protect the bats and other wildlife, and is closed from April 1 to September 15 to avoid disturbance of the summer bat colony.

One of the SCCi’s primary activities is the acquisition of caves through purchase, lease, easement, donation, or management agreements. Potential acquisitions are carefully evaluated. Presence of endangered plants or animals, significant geological and hydrological features, wilderness quality, threats from development or exploitation, and access issues all play a role in the evaluation process. The SCCi already protects another Gray  bat cave in north Georgia with an estimated population of 10,000 federally-listed endangered Gray bats.  The SCCi, established in 1991, is a tax-exempt not-for-profit corporation (501-c-3) dedicated to cave conservation and management.

“This is an important cave to protect not only for the endangered Gray bat, but also for the state’s rare Southern cavefish,” said Heather Garland, The Nature Conservancy’s cave program coordinator. The cave will be managed for scientific study, but use will be limited during the summer months when the bats are in residence. TNC’s financial donation was contributed by the Wallace Research Foundation based in Tucson, Arizona.

The SCCi currently manages nineteen cave preserves containing more than 45 significant caves in six southeastern states. Most of the caves are on property owned by the SCCi.  The remaining cave preserves are managed through property leases.  You can learn more about the SCCi by visiting their web site at www.scci.org.

Forest Systems, Inc., is a forest management company that operates and manages forestland across the United States on behalf of large institutional investors, including pension funds.  Scott Griffin, southern region manager for Forest Systems says the company manages each forest with an emphasis on optimizing its investment performance while practicing progressive and responsible stewardship.  This includes identifying lands with unique environmental characteristics, such as the bat cave, and working with public and private conservation groups to place them under permanent protection.  Forest Systems is on the web at www.forestsystems.com.

For additional information, contact Mark Wolinsky, Acquisitions Committee Chairman for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, at 404-386-7050, or Gina Hancock, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, at 615-383-9909.

SCCi Buys Valhalla

On Friday, March 8, 2002, the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. became the owner of Valhalla, a well-known and much-loved vertical cave in Jackson County, Alabama, USA. The purchase marks the successful completion of a two-year effort to acquire and re-open the cave.

With its beautiful 227-foot entrance pitch and over a mile of cave at the bottom, Valhalla is one of the finest pit caves in the southeastern United States. Following it’s discovery and exploration in the 1960’s, the cave was a popular destination for decades until it was closed in the early 90’s when irresponsible cavers wore out their welcome with the surrounding landowners.

The SCCi has purchased 125 acres including the cave entrance, and has secured access via the traditional route up Goshen Hollow. The $100,000 purchase was financed with a five-year $80,000 mortgage from a local bank. Valhalla is once again open to cavers, and with your help it will remain so forever.

While we now own the pit and part of the road leading to it, we do not own the entire access route. Further, the SCCi property is surrounded on all sides by extensive hunting club lands. Landowner relations will therefore be an important consideration in the management of the preserve.

We have established a good working relationship with the surrounding landowners and the hunting clubs that lease much of their property, and have obtained permission to cross their lands and to place an SCCi lock on the gate at the beginning of the road. Cooperation and respect for our neighbors will be critical in order to avoid problems in the future.

In the interest of maintaining good relations with our neighbors, we have decided to minimize visitation during deer and turkey hunting seasons. We don’t have to do this, but we feel that our friendship with the other landowners is worth it. We are also concerned for the safety of visitors to the preserve. Access during hunting season entails the risk of accidentally being shot. For these reasons, the Conservancy has adopted a management plan that restricts access during hunting seasons. We feel this is in everyone’s best interest.

Cavers wishing to visit the preserve must contact the property managers and provide advance notice of their visit. They will then be provided with the gate combination and access information. At least one member of the group must be an SCCi or NSS member. We are confident that cavers will understand and respect this policy.

The full management plan is available on the SCCi web site. If you have any questions about the cave or the access policy, you may contact the property managers at valhalla@scci.org.

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy is very pleased to be able to re-open one of TAG’s finest caves, and is counting on the support of the caving community to pay off the mortgage and ensure that Valhalla belongs to cavers forever. We are planning a “Buy a Piece of Valhalla” promotion to help pay off the mortgage, and a special Valhalla Purchase Fund is being established. Contributions are gratefully accepted.

Bill Putnam On Behalf of the Board of Directors Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. valhalla@scci.org

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.