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

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 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.