Beneath the Forest

Beneath the Forest

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Beneath the Forest
Series Title:
Beneath the Forest
Kovarik, Johanna L.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture (Forest Service)
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Subjects / Keywords:
Resource Management ( local )
Cave Ecology ( local )
serial ( sobekcm )
United States


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Contents: Alpine Caves of Turtlehead Mountain -- Rare and Uncommon Plants of Rockhouses: Episode Two -- Returning to the Caves of the Monongahela National Forest: Alpha Door Cave -- Underground for Four Days!
Open Access - Permission by Publisher
Original Version:
Vol. 7, no. 2 (2014)
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See Extended description for more information.

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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K26-00499 ( USFLDC DOI )
k26.499 ( USFLDC Handle )
19779 ( karstportal - original NodeID )

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Beneath the Forest 1 Beneath the Forest" is a biannual newsletter published by th e Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Edited by Johanna L. Kovarik, Minerals and Geology Management Volume 7, Issue 2 Fall 2014 Inside this Issueand much more... Page 3 10 1 Alpine Caves of Turtlehead Mountain Underground for Four Days! 17


Beneath the Forest 2 CAVE AND KARST CALENDAR OF EVENTS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------American Geophysical Union December 15 19 2014 San Francisco, CA ———————————————————International Congress on Groundwater in Karst June 15 June 28 2015 Birmingham, UK event.php?id=243 ———————————————————— National Cave Rescue Operations and Management Seminar (NCRC) July 24 August 1 2015 Park City, KY —————————————————— National Speleological Society Convention July 11—18 2015 Waynesville, MO —————————————————— Editor’s Notes: I am pleased to present our 13th issue of Beneath the Forest, the Forest Service cave and karst newsletter, published twice a year in the spring and in the fall. Our next issue will be the spring issue in May of 2015. Articles for the Spring 2015 issue are due on April 1st, 2015 in order for the issue to be out in May 2015. We welcome contributions from stakeholders and volunteers as well as forest employees. Please encourage resource managers, cavers, karst scientists, and other speleological enthusiasts who do work on your forest to submit articles for the next exciting issue! Cover art: The view of the Flathead National Forest from Tears of the Turtle Cave, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana. See article, page 3. Image: Elliot Stahl Contributors and Entities represented in this issue: Jason Ballensky National Speleological Society Cory BlackEagle University of Kentucky/ GSA Karst Division Dave Herron Ashley National Forest Katie McConahy Monongahela National Forest Cindy Sandeno Monongahela National Forest Elliot Stahl Caves of Montana Project David Taylor Daniel Boone National Forest Linda Tracy Monongahela National Forest Jason Walz Lincoln National Forest Ellie Was Monongahela National Forest


Beneath the Forest 3 Alpine Caves of Turtlehead Mountain Jason Ballensky National Speleological Society Turtlehead Mountain is located in the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness within the Flathead National Forest of Montana. The area and its caves are accessed via a 21-mile hike from M eadow Creek trailhead. Cavers initially investigat ed Turtlehead Mountain in the 1970s, but found mostly small caves and shelters. The first significant cave was not discovered until 2005, when a day of ridge-walking brought us within sight of a new entrance. The entrance led to Virg il the Turtle's Greathouse Cave, the first of several noteworthy caves to be explored on Turtlehead Mountain. In 2006, we mapped Virgil down to its present depth of 1,586 feet, making it the second deepest limestone cave in the United States at the time. The cave consists mostly of large borehole passage, requires only two rope drops and is relatively easy to navigate. Receded flood waters have left a thick layer of mud covering much of the caveÂ’s lower half. The mud creates a unique landscape, through which a trail has been designated to ensure its protection for future visitors. The entrance to Virgil lies in a cliff face. We theorize that the cave may have formed before glacial down-cutting in the area, which likely intersected the cave system and created the en trance used today. Cliff faces are exposed in multiple locations around Turtlehead Mountain and have yielded the majority of our cave discoveries. Our next significant exploration was The Cave That Summer Forgot. We found its entrance near our only source of running surface water. We set up camp at this location, due to its proximity to the water, which made our exploration of the cave convenient. The cave contains a tight, meandering passage, which is unique from other nearby cave passages in that it trends uphill. It measures over 400 feet high and has not yet been explored to an end. (see map, pg. 6) Tickle Me Turtle is a cave system dissected by glacial erosion in two places, resulti ng in three separate caves. The three entrances of the uppermost cave lie upon the face of a cliff and require r ope to access. The middle cave is a short segment with two entrances. The lower cave has just one entrance and is the largest of the group. In 2012, the lower cave was explored to a depth of 1,027 feet deep (see map, pg. 7). (Turtlehead continues on page 4) Beth Cortright examines an ice formation in the Cave That Summer Forgot. Image: E. Stahl


Beneath the Forest 4 The cave continues, but a fl owstone blockage prevents explorers from traveling d eeper within. Double Date Cave is the only significant cave in the area with a pit entrance. The most comple x cave in the area, Double Date has multiple loop passages, junction rooms and eight different passages that e nd in sumps. Some of the sumps can be bypassed, while ot hers block the route. We have surveyed most of the obvious leads, but suspect that Double Date still holds potential. Tears of the Turtle Cave be gins with a gaping entrance in the cliffs directly belo w Turtlehead Mountain. The position of the rocky entran ce, situated high upon the cliff, was the first sign of the cave's significant depth potential. Tears is filled with confusing passages and dead ends, which lead us to initially believe that it terminated at a depth of 400 feet. We later returned to scout for additional passage and found a traverse, which significantly extended the cave. In 2013 we explored Tears to 1,100 feet deep, and this year's expedition focused on its continued survey. On early trips into Tears, many shor t pits were down-climbed. As the cave became deeper and the duration of trips inside the cave lengthened, these climbs became increasingly difficult. (Turtlehead continued from page 3) (Turtlehead continued on page 5) Top: The entrance of Tears of the Turtle recedes into the distance as Jason Ballensky hikes back to camp. I: E. Stahl Bottom: Shawn Thomas moves through Double Date Cave I: E. Stahl. Cave Name Length (ft) Depth (ft) Tears of the Turtle Cave 6,163.8 1,629.2 Virgil the Turtle's Greathouse Cave 7,847.9 1,586.4 Tickle Me Turtle Cave Port #3 4,018.4 1,027.1 Double Date Cave 7,741.4 582.4 Cave that Summer Forgot 1,763.0 412.1 Table of caves and statistics from Turtlehead Mountain.


Beneath the Forest 5 This year's team spent considerable time rigging the drops with ropes to increase safety and efficiency. A total of 44 rope drops are now required to reach the bottom. The 2014 expedition surveyed the cave to a depth of 1,629 feet, making it the deepest limestone cave in the U.S. Tears of the Turtle Cave cu rrently ends in a sizeable canyon passage. The floor is covered with a mixture of mud and water, creating a qui cksand-like surface that is difficult to cross and possibly dangerous. We are currently considering various strategies to navigate the challenging passage, and hope to come up with a solution before next yearÂ’s expedition. The cave still has considerable depth potential. (Continued from Turtlehead page 4) We have mapped over six miles of passage in the Turtlehead Mountain area and discovered more than 20 caves. The area still holds great promise, but the leads are becoming more difficult to access. The remote location and strenuous nature of the caving ensure that some leads will always remain for future pursuits. Expeditions to Turtlehead M ountain are done as part of the Caves of Montana Project, an official project of the National Speleological Societ y. The Caves of Montana Project has a MOU with the Spotted Bear Ranger District of the Flathead Na tional Forest to allow for information exchange. This is an excellent way for us to share maps and information with the Forest, and we sincerely appreciate their s upport. We look forward to continuing our relationship w ith the Forest and to ongoing work in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Jason Ballensky squeezes through a tight sinuous passage in Tears of the Turtle. Image: E. Stahl One of the drops in Tickle Me Turtle bells out beneath Hans Bodenhamer, on rope. Image: E. Stahl


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Beneath the Forest 8 Cave and Karst Resource Management Field Visit and Workshop, National Forests in Arizona Johanna L. Kovarik Cave and Karst Geology Program Coordinator Minerals and Geology Management During the summer of 2014, the Coronado and Coconino National Forests requ ested a field visit from Minerals and Geology Management to discuss cave and karst management issues. The first two days were spent in the field. Monday September 22 was spent on the Coconino National Forest visiting Kaibab Caverns, Pivot Rock Cave, and various karst features within the Mogollon Rim Ranger District. Tuesday September 23 was spent on the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest visiting Ball Sink and Porcupine Caves on the Black Mesa Ranger District. Wednesday September 24 was dedicated to discussing management issues on the Coronado National Forest. On Thursday September 25 the Prescott National Forest hos ted an all-day seminar on cave and karst management. The morning session involved forest personnel from the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Lincoln, Tonto, and Prescott National Forests relating ma nagement issues on their forests, as I and Randy Wels h, Assistant Director for Recreation, Heritage, and Volunteer Resources supplied information and answers. In the afternoon, the group was joined by members of National Speleological Societ y groups in Arizona as well as representatives from Bat Conservation International and the National Park Service. (Arizona continued on page 9) Ray Keeler of the Central Arizona Grotto (l eft) speaks to Forest Service personnel from the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests during a field tr ip to Porcupine Cave in northern Arizona. I: J. Kovarik


Beneath the Forest 9 Cave Fauna Inventory and Monitoring Workshop Jason Walz Cave Specialist, Lincoln National Forest A new cave training program was developed on Lincoln National Forest this past summer. Jason Walz, Cave Specialist for the Li ncoln and Jim Kennedy, Bat Biologist contract or teamed up to develop a training program focused on internal-cave survey. The training was a great success, incorporating Biologists from the Lincoln; as well as, from across Region 3 and the Bureau of Land Management. Participants learned th e proper inventory and monitoring techniques for caves in the classroom and in the field. They used the latest monitoring equipment and developed new monitoring forms through collaboration. Main issues identified by the group included lack of inventory data on cave and ka rst resources, lack of available field personnel, need for established partnerships with the caving community, lack of long-term continuity within the local cave and karst program, and lack of awareness/ understanding within the forests concerning the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act. Also discussed in-depth was the cave and karst management strate gy that the cavers in the area have been working to dr aft for each forest in Arizona, and how that strategy could be incorporated into various levels of forest land management planning. Next steps for each forest include nominating and designating caves as significant, establishing agreements with their local stakeholder groups, and looking into opportunities such as GeoCorps America Internships to hire workers to conduct cave and karst related projects. Meetings with local stakeholders and among the forests are planned in the future to develop these projects and to further work with the cave and karst management strategy. I would like to thank Polly Haessig, Connie Lane, Frances Alvarado, and Meckenzie HelmandollarPowell for their time and hard work in organizing the meetings and fieldtrips, a nd everyone who attended and contributed to the events during the week. The success of the week depends on maintaining the momentum – I look forward to hearing about the great work done in relation to cave and karst management there in the Southwestern Region over the next few years! (Arizona continued from page 8) Students are learning about coll ecting monitoring data at the entrance to a cave. Jim Kennedy, instructor in the yellow helmet, explains the species richness and environmental parameters found at the entrance. Image: J. Walz


Beneath the Forest 10 Rare and Uncommon Plants of Rockhouses: Episode Two David D. Taylor Daniel Boone National Forest In Episode One of this series (Taylor 2014), readers were introduced to rockhouses or rockshelters, recesses in cliffs composed of resi stant rocks. These recesses may be small indentations in the cliff or massive overhangs in which a house could be (and in places have been) built. Some are also cave-like with dark zones. Many have complex structure within with ledges, smaller rockhouses, and crevices. A range of microclimates occurs among rockhouses and within rockhouses, but in general, temperatures and humidity inside rockhouses are more constant than outside rockshelters. This in turn provides stable habitat for many plant species. In three counties of east cen tral Kentucky, there occurs a goldenrod found nowhere else (endemic) and only from within sandstone rock shelters. This goldenrod (genus Solidago) is distinguished by copious, long white hairs on the stems and stems (photo, above). These hairs give the plant both its specific epithet, albopilosa (meaning white, soft long hairs) and its common name, white-haired goldenrod. The plant was described new to scien ce in 1942 by Cincinnati botanist/ecologist E. Lucy Braun (Braun 1942). The plant’s limited range, its ve ry specific habitat, and trampling of plants by visitors to rockshelters led U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened in 1988 (USFWS 1988). All known occurrences of white-haired goldenrod occur within the proclama tion boundary of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Most of these occur on the forest, but a few are found on private land. White-haired goldenrod grows from a crown rooted with deep, sinewy roots. A single crown may have one to numerous stems (I have counted as many as 26). Stems, up to 51 cm (20 in) tall, may be erect or decumbent. In dense populations, stems become highly intertwined. Leaves are ovate or spearhead-shaped, 40-80 cm (about 1.5 – 3 in) long by 20 – 50 mm (0.75 – 2 in) wide. Both leaves and stems are covered in soft white hair s. Ten to thirty heads of yellow flowers are borne near the end of each stem. Flower heads are usually less than 10 mm (0.4 in) across. This species generally grow s on the floor of larger rockshelters and always behi nd the line (the drip line) where water flowing over the cliff hits the floor of the shelter. The soils in thes e rockshelters are sandy and usually moist to average, and relatively high in available nitrogen which leaches from the sandstone as potassium nitrate, aka saltpete r. In fact, at various times beginning with the Revolutionary War, soils in rockshelters across the Forest were mined for saltpeter. Interestingly, Francis (1998) reported that the plants grew well in the presence of available soil nitrogen. Some populations grow in ve ry dry rockshelters and some grow in relatively wet rockshelters. (Goldenrod continues on page 11) Goldenrod stem showing long, soft white hairs. Image: D. Taylor


Beneath the Forest 11 The plant also grows on ledge s and in concavities of boulders within the rockshelters. Plants are usually shaded part of the day and some locations are shaded all day. White-haired goldenrod without the white hairs resembles in part Soldiago flexicaulis, zigzag goldenrod, and in part Soldiago caesia, wreath goldenrod, species which often grow on the forest side of the Andreasen and Eshbaugh (1973) conducted extensive morphological study of white-haired goldenrod and concluded that at least one population showed signs of crossing w ith zigzag goldenrod. Others have also suggested this Long thought to have contributed to recent genetic history of white-haired goldenrod, Esselman and Crawford (1997) showed that in fact neither species di d. Nonetheless, white-haired goldenrod may have an ancient origin in zigzag goldenrod. (Goldenrod continued from page 10) People like to visit rockh ouses. They are interesting places and often awe inspiring. Unintentional damage to many plants living in the rockshelters occurs as a result. In 1988, forest visito rs trampling plants within rock shelters helped spur the federal listing of this plant. Today it is still a concern, but has been greatly curbed. An education effort involving the forest, Kentucky State Nature Pres erves Commission (the state heritage program), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has paid off. Signs posted at various area business and kiosks at trailheads alert visitors to the plant. (Goldenrod continues on page 12) A closer look at the goldenrod. Image: D. Taylor A cluster of white-haired goldenrod plants. Image: D. Taylor


Beneath the Forest 12 Additionally, the forest has pl aced a number of simple chicken wire and rebar fences at the most heavily visited rockshelters. Small si gns are affixed to the fence telling visitors what is behind the fence and asking them to stay out of the fenced areas. Most visitors comply and areas in which the goldenrod was trampled out of existence are being recolonized by seedlings. Monitoring done by the forest and Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission indicates the species is doing fairly well now and on its way to recovery. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving consideration to delisting. Continued improvement in population numbers and health could make that a reality. (Goldenrod continued from page 11) References Braun, E.L. 1942 A new species and a new variety of Solidago from Kentucky. Rhodora 44:1-4. Andreason, M. L. and W. H. Eshbaugh. 1973 Solidago albopilosa Braun, a little known goldenrod from Kentucky. Castanea 38:117-132. Esselman, E.J. and D.J. Crawford. 1997 Molecular and morphological evidence for the origin of Solidago albopilosa (Asteraceae), a rare endemic of Kentucky. Systematic Botany 22:245-257. Francis, S.W. 1998 Plant communities of sandstone rockshelters in KentuckyÂ’s Red River Gorge. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Kentucky, Lexington. Taylor, D.D. 2014 Rare and uncommon plants of rockhouse: episode one. Beneath the Forest 7(1):9-10. USDA Forest Service. Available at http:// A rockshelter where goldenrods are growing. Image: D. Taylor Signs created by the Daniel Boon e to protect the white-haired goldenrod. Image: D. Taylor


Beneath the Forest 13 New Karst Division at the Geological Society of America! Cory BlackEagle University of Kentucky Thanks to the efforts of a large number of people, I am very pleased to announce that on Wednesday, October 22 at the annual meeting, GSA Council approved our application and so the GSA Karst Division has been officially created. Why a Karst Division? Our justification statement, for your interest, to give you an idea of our emphases and missions: Karst is a terrane comprised of distinctive landforms and hydrology which relies on the host rock being highly soluble in the presen ce of naturally-occurring acids. Karst terrane is an ope n system that contains geological, hydrological, bi ological, geochemical, and meteorological components that interact with and upon one another both at the surf ace of the Earth and in the subsurface. Connections be tween all components can be dynamic and operate on very short to very long time scales. Such terrains can be active and contemporary or inactive and/or completely decoupled from current conditions. According to the American Geosciences Institute (Veni, et al., 20 01), karst terrane underlies approximately 25% of the global land surface. Ford and Williams (1989) estimated “that 25% of the global population is supplied largel y or entirely by karst waters (p. 6).” It is clear th at karst terrane serves as a fragile foundation for urban and rural populations. Karst terranes have been important to distinguished GSA members since the 1890s. The GSA Bulletin has long-published landmark karst research, such as Origin of Limestone Caverns in 1930 by William Morse Davis, and Vadose and Phreat ic Features of Limestone Caverns by J Harlen Bretz in 1942. The study of karst terranes necessarily involves a wide variety of subjects and specialties, spanning almost every division in GSA. These include geobiology, geomicrobiology, soils, environmental geology, engineering, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, structural geology, geomorphology, archeology, and even planetary studies. The presence and characteri stics of karst impacts a number of key scientific and infrastructure topics. Most karst studies require a multi and inter-disciplinary approach. Because sediments and speleothems (mineral deposits) in caves are, in ma ny respects, isolated from surficial processes on both short and long time scales, they provide valuable res ources to study the Earth’s conditions recorded in them. Careful study provides information on fluctuations in regional temperature, atmospheric gases, rainfall, glaciation, sea-level change, flora, and fauna. Karst terrane, like many other areas, is valuable for the economic resources it provide s. The beer brewing industry as well as the bour bon whiskey industry relies heavily on the water from karst areas. The rock that hosts karst such as limestone, dolomite, marble, gypsum, travertine, and rock salt, are quarried throughout the world. Pale okarst areas (areas containing karst that has b een decoupled from the surface), contain many of the world’s largest economic reserves of lead, zinc, alum inum, oil, and natural gas. Cave fauna, adapted to low energy and lowto no-light conditions, exist in highly specialized, unique, and extremely fragile ecosystems. Many cave species can exist in perhaps a single cave or a single region, and many are listed as rare or endangered nationally and worldwide. Biologists often study cave species to gain insight into ecosystem development and evolution. (Karst division continued on page 14)


Beneath the Forest 14 Further, many cave microbes are extremophiles, and their study assists in understanding crucial geomicrobiological processe s and the interplanetary search for life. Bats, one of the most well-known species to depend on caves, eat prodigious amounts of insects on a daily basis. Boyl es et al. (2011) estimate the value of bats to the agricultural industry in continental U.S. alone to be roughly $22.9 billion/year. Cave environments preserve and protect archeological material that otherwise would have been destroyed by surface processes. As a result, many of the most important archeological sites in the world are found in caves. Due to the cavernous nature of many karst areas, infrastructure can be severely impacted by ground subsidence and catastrophic collapse. Fortunately, deaths are rare when sinkhol es form, but they can be extremely costly in terms of property damage. According to Pearson (2013), “insurance claims submitted in Florida alone between 2006 and 2010 totaled $1.4 billion.” Flooding is also a serious problem in karst terrain, and can also be extremely damaging and costly. Consequently, th e ability to document the presence of karst terrane a nd properly design structures accordingly is crucial. Water is the most commonly ut ilized resource in karst areas, which contain some of the largest volumes wells and springs in the world. Ve ry large volumes of water are stored as groundwater in karst terrane; however, utilizing water from karst te rrane is not without severe risk. Movement of water from the Earth’s surface into a karst aquifer is rapid and without any filtration. Whatever is on the ground w ill flow unmitigated into karst aquifers, making them highly susceptible to pollution. (Karst division con tinued from page 13) It is critical to note that previously no single division within GSA encompassed the interdisciplinary and multifaceted subject of karst. This widespread, fragile, and troublesome landscape absolutely requires a multidisciplinary forum where all aspects of karst studies can converge and share research and results. There is no single organizat ion dedicated to the scientific study of karst in the United States. Various organizations, such as the National Speleological Society, include karst scien ce and publish a quarterly journal for such work, but its main public persona is devoted to the exploration and conservation of caves. GSA, with its multidisciplinary geosciences scope and large, international membersh ip, is uniquely positioned to not only fill this professional scientific gap, but to also bring a prominence to karst science as well as to provide a scientific focal point for karst researchers. This step by GSA Council ensures that GSA will continue to fulfill its vi sion statement: "To be the premier geological society supporting the global community in scientific discovery, communication, and application of geoscience knowledge." You can find the latest news, including details on joining that will be posted soon at Forest Service Statement of Nondiscrimination : The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or part of an indivi dual’s income is derived from any public assistance program. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimi nation, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.. Washington, D.C. 20250-9410, or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720-6382 (TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.


Beneath the Forest 15 Returning to the Caves of the Monongahela National Forest: Alpha Door Cave Katie McConahy, Linda Tracy, Cindy Sandeno, and Ellie Was Monongahela National forest This summer brought a return to the caves and karst of the Monongahela National Forest. Two GeoCorps interns, Ellie Was and Katie McConahy with the Geological Society of Ameri ca, came on board to assist with our Cave Resource Management Program and with our forest-wide cave management strategy that was initiated in March 2013. Initial review of over 300 recognized caves on the forest revealed little was known about all but a dozen caves. History Back in September 2002, twelve caves on the forest were deemed significant under the Federal Cave Resource Protection Act of 1988 (FCRPA), of which six were closed at leas t seasonally to everyone including Forest Service personnel as a precaution to protect endangered bat habita ts and other important resources. Little was known about the spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) at th is time. WNS was moving quickly and it was devastati ng to the bat populations in the east, of which many species used the forest caves as hibernacula. In March 2013, all caves on the forest were designated significant and closed, until it could be proven otherwise. Since thes e closures, the caves have been (legally) entered only a handful of times when necessary, typically to c onduct hibernating bat counts and to clean up the mess left behind by vandals. Hardly any new data has been recorded, especially since the onset of WNS, and most existing data dates back to the 1970s. Inventory Form Prior to the GeoCorps arriva l, an inventory form was created to assist in collec ting data in caves. It was developed with collaboration of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Inve ntory was designed to be used by a wide range of people from people with minimal knowledge to those with expansive knowledge of caves. The inventory form guides the identification of key features of the cave and surrounding environment. These key features are an expansion of the criteria for significance under F CRPA, those criteria being: biota, archaeological, hydr ological, recreational, geological/mineralogical, or educational. If collected, this information would help to build a larger and stronger database of cave information for the forest, so that an effective Cave Resource Management Plan could be developed. (Alpha Door continued on page 16) The entrance to Alpha Door Cave on the Monongahela National Forest. I: provided by W. Wilson


Beneath the Forest 16 The passage contained sharp edges of water-sculpted limestone and involved crawls through the small cobbled streambed fed by rapi dly falling ceiling drips, as well as, some tight squeezes. A small stream on the surface flows toward the entrance of the cave, insurg es about 40 feet above the entrance at a small waterfall and re-emerges before sinking again and just before reaching the entrance. This stream channel appears to be directly over top of the cave passage and has the same NE/SW bearing as the cave passage. The area just inside the Al pha Door entrance was teeming with life, includi ng banded crickets, spiders, and a snail. Unidentified, microbial/fungal, hair-like, white filaments covered in condensation were found hanging from a rock inside the main room. There was, however, no evidence of bats and the wetness of the cave makes even incidental use by bats unlikely. Although there was no eviden ce of bats, proper WNS decontamination protocol was followed upon exiting the cave. By entering Alpha Cave, many data gaps were filled in, as well as, some new questi ons posed, such as: What are the microbial filaments? Is this cave hydrologic ally connected to other caves in the area, which produce a sizeable resurgence? Is it important that the caves are open for trips like this to continue into the future, so knowledge gaps can be filled in and an effective strategy can be implem ented to protect and preserve the Forest’s valuable karst resources? With the inventory form in place and a cave entrance protocol to monitor who ente rs the caves in place, the Forest can also enlist the he lp of local organizations, educational institutions, or ot her agencies to assist in the collection of this enormous amount of data. Alpha Door On the morning of June 12, 2014 Linda Tracy, Mark Tracy, Cindy Sandeno, Ellie Was, and Katie McConahy set out, with the permission of the Forest Supervisor, to relocate an d re-evaluate Alpha Door Cave. The cave, located on Forest Service lands in Randolph County, WV, was initially located in March 2011, but was not fully explor ed. After about an hour of hiking uphill through the forest and nettles, the entrance was reached. The entrance to the cave is created by three large slabs of breakdown that form a triangle, or “A” shape, hence the name “Alpha Door.” Alpha Door Cave occurs in limestone near the bottom of the Greenbrier Group (Missi ssippian Age); primarily in one enlarged joint trending NE/SW. The extent of the traversable passage m easured about 125 feet in length. A larger room inside the entrance was intersected to the NE and SW by the 1-3 foot wide and ~8 foot high joint. (Alpha Door conti nued from page 15) Left to Right: Mark Tracy, Volunteer; Ellie Was, GeoCorps; Cindy Sandeno, Ecologist and Partnerships; Katie McConahy, GeoCorps; Linda Tracy, Volunteer and retired Forest Geologist. I: provided by W. Wilson


Beneath the Forest 17 In 2012, this same volunteer group discovered that the deepest part of Fort Stanton Cave is so expansive that miles of it lay under the Lincoln National Forest. As the cave continued out of si ght, teams were traveling up to 10 miles in each directi on to continue the cave exploration project. As gr oups started to reach their physical limits, a joint deci sion between the Lincoln National Forest and the BLM Roswell Field Office was reached to establish a cave-camp deep in Fort Stanton Cave. Designing a cave camp is similar in many ways to the planning that goes into ca mping elsewhere on National Forest lands. Every effort is made to use “Leave No Trace” principles in their stri ctest form. The camp team starts by covering the area with tarps and ends by sweeping and removing all debris. During the trip, explorers are very careful to avoid spills, collect trash and contain bodily wastes in special containers. When the team exits the cave, they take all this material with them and the cave camp is spotlessly prepared for the next group. (Underground continued on page 18) Underground for Four Days! Jason Walz Lincoln National Forest Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep overnight in a cave? What about for four days straight? This past June, a team of cav e surveyors did just that to explore cave passages under Lincoln National Forest. The cave they are exploring is Fort Stanton Cave, which is over 31 miles lo ng, with only one cave entrance. The entrance is at one end of the cave system which means explorers have to travel longer and longer distances from the entrance as the cave is explored! In addition, the cave features m iles of delicate areas called the “Snowy River Formation,” which requires each person to carry additional we ight of gear and clothing used to keep it pristine. As each team goes further and further into unexplored areas, the endurance required is everincreasing, making a cave-camp a good idea. Historically, the entrance to Fort Stanton Cave was discovered before 1855, on lands adjacent to the Lincoln National Forest. For over one hundred years, the cave was visited regularly and thought to be only a few miles long. In 1946, the cave entrance came under the management of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the cave was still expected to stay within their boundaries. During the mid-1970’s, a volunteer group called the Fort Stanton Cave Study Project formed and started to search for more cave passages using scientific techniques. For over 30 y ears members of the group searched every crack and behind every rock in the historic part of the cave, making the ultimate discovery in 2001. Cave explorers popped out of a small hole to find the “Snowy River Formation” and the continuation of the rest of the cave. Cave-camp team ready to leave the cave on their fourth day. They are in ‘clean mode’ wearing alternate clothing and gear to keep Snowy River pristine LtoR: James Hunter, Stan Allison, Jason Ballensky, Shawn Thomas. I: provided by J. Walz


Beneath the Forest 18 The team sets up camp, complete with ground tarps, a primitive kitchen, sleeping bags and a latrine area. The camp is situated at a major junction of cave passages which the team will use to reach the frontier of exploration, places no person ha s ever been, and just a couple hours away. The team awakes about 5:30 am to the tune of an alarm watch. No sunrise is there to greet them. As everyone gets moving and more headlamps flicker on, the darkness shifts and artificial lighting begins the dawn of a new day. Excitement builds as the team expects to find unbelievable wonders when they head out of the cave-camp. Over the next tw o days the team makes major discoveries inventor ying and surveying more than a mile of previously unknown cave passages. On the first day, “We went back to map this side passage and spent the rest of our day surveying it. We named the start of this passage “The Beckoning.” This new discovery was an 800-foot long walking size passage with lots of gypsum. It ended in a large junction room where the passage continued along the same trend but got much bigger,” said Jason Ballensky, Trip Leader. Heading to other areas of the cave on the second day, the turn-around time was reached just as “We set one last station at MA58 and retr eated back the way we had come leaving an unexplored 70 foot wide and 20 foot tall passage,” Ballensky added. After four days underground, the team re-emerged, tattered, sore and full of st ories of adventure. Their motivation to return was alre ady building as they seem to have forgotten the difficu lties, but reflect back to the moments of wonder they e xperienced first-hand. The expedition ended just as it began, back at the bunkhouse, where the team was welcomed by past explorers who now compile all the maps and data. The weary cave explorers found renewal in a meal, a shower, and by soaking up some glorious New Mexico sunshine. After the design of the camp and all the specialized equipment is prepared, the day finally comes for the first team to spend four days underground. Like almost every trip into Fort Stant on Cave, it begins with the exploration team gathering at the Fort Stanton Cave Bunkhouse. The leader of the trip flies in from his home in California, gree ted by a local New Mexico crew of cave explorers. Every aspect of the team mission and the gear required is checked and doublechecked. As the team awakes on the morning of July 14th, they realize they woul d soon not see the sun nor have any contact with the surface for four days – isolated from the rest of the world. As the four-person team h eads to the cave entrance, they walk down a historic stairway where people have ventured for more than a century. They follow a complex cave-path that leads them through crawls, climb-downs and squeezes. The path is easy to follow, but represents decades of exploration and discoveries made by previous explorers. Eventually the team pops through the most important di scovery and arrives at the “Snowy River Formation.” A beautiful white river of snowy crystals -like no othe r in the entire world. The group follows this dry crystal riverbed, tracing the footsteps of the all the prev ious explorers, trekking along the Snowy River that meanders deep into the cave. Making the trip to the furthe st part of Fort Stanton Cave is no easy feat. The team has to cover many more miles than the majority of physically fit cave explorers can endure. Reaching the cave camp after nine hours and ten miles is a great relief, like completing a marathon and collapsing at th e finish line. For three more days this is their ho me, a sandy, level area of the cave with an underground spring nearby. (Underground continued from page 17)

Alpine Caves of Turtlehead Mountain --
Rare and Uncommon Plants of Rockhouses: Episode Two --
Returning to the Caves of the Monongahela National Forest:
Alpha Door Cave --
Underground for Four Days!


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