The Role of Grottos in the Caving Community

Grottos (caving clubs) are internal organizations of the National Speleological Society (NSS). When I first discovered caving, it was through the Upper Cumberland Grotto (UCG). Since then, I have been involved in caving and our community. I have seen the UCG's membership wax and wane a few times, and at low points I have at times struggled with what the role of a grotto is in the digital era. Below are my thoughts.

The first and most important role a grotto plays is intercepting would-be cavers early in their caving career. We aren't born knowing which gear to wear, nor are we born with a conservation ethic appropriate to the sensitive nature of caves. Those two reasons, safety and conservation, should be the grottos primary goal. Like a good church, the grotto should be welcoming of all people, especially those who aren't practicing good safety or conservation ethics for it is within them that we have the greatest opportunity to affect positive change. It's also important to be inclusive as people from all walks of life, and at different points on their journey come to caving. Take a soft handed approach to dealing with new people, it is easy to give the wrong impression about caving by being heavy handed.

The second goal of a grotto should be in helping people network within our community. This means making them aware of meetings of your organization, and sister organizations. Introduce the new cavers to the old cavers. Help new cavers find caving trips to attend and projects to be involved with that fit their interests and expertise.

This leads to the third and final goal of grottos. We should be encouraging members to contribute to the caving community. They can do this through:

Writing - Most caving communities have print publications. The Tennessee Cave Survey (TCS), and the NSS have monthly publications. You may want to write a trip report about a particularly fun (or gruesome) caving trip you went on. Or maybe you want to write a blog post about caving.

Photography - Writing isn't the only way to document something. Below is an example of a recently documented saltpeter operation, date unknown.
Nicole Blanton, mattock marks & pine torch holes, Brewington Cave, Jackson County, Tennessee

- Caves need maps. Be one of the people who helps that happen. Surveying is team work, and it takes a long time to produce a good map, especially if the cave is large. If you know AutoCad, ArcMap, or Illustrator, then you're off to a good start in working with maps and map data.

Ridge-walking- Take a GPS into the field and find some new caves! Be sure to document what you're doing, otherwise you're just screwing around.

Volunteering - Volunteering takes many forms. It may be that you are taking the time to clean up a trashed cave. Or it may be that you took some time to talk to a 1st grade class about caving.

Leading - It's not just the grotto chair that leads. Most cave trips have a leader. If you want to lead a trip, learn a cave and invite the grotto on a trip. Leading isn't always about being inside the cave. Leading may be fostering a spirit of inclusiveness in the grotto. Leading may be taking the time to talk to each of the members at a grotto meeting. Leading may be calling the folks who didn't go to the meeting and checking in on them.

Administration - Administration is arguably the least glamorous of things one can do in caving, but it's necessary. We all enjoy having our treasury balanced, our minutes kept, our meetings led, and events planned.

The third stage cavers are the ones that end up sticking with community the longest, and those are the folks I want to join the TCS. The TCS offers great incentive to become a community based caver. Vetted cavers have access to cave locations, narratives, maps, and a whole slew of other information about the caves in Tennessee.

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