The Role of Grottos in the Outside Community

My previous blog post discussed the role of grottos in the caving community. It focused on the internal aspects of grottos as way of making better cavers. This post will focus on the external aspects of a grotto and ways they can make your city, county, or region a better place to live, work, and play.

Landowner Relations

I am frequently contacted by landowners, land developers, and land managers who wish to better understand caves, sinkholes, or karst on their property. Curious landowners will seek out experts and that may lead them to you, your local grotto, or people that you know. By being a known person in the community, you yourself can be the resource that people seek out. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce them to the caving community and put our best foot foward.

Some strategies I use to help myself and the caving community with landowners, land developers, and land managers includes:
  • Keeping accurate and up-to-date contact information for landowers. This includes phone, physical address, and mailing address, and preferred method of contact.
  • Clarifying and making notes regarding access to a cave or feature of interest. This is stuff like where to park, when we can and can't be there.
  • I try to mail all the local cave landowners a Christmas Card each year, just to let them know that we appreciate them, and the access that they've granted us.
  • Track access to features on public land including time accessible, parking, and links to where to acquire permits if necessary.


As a general rule, I think most people will agree that knowing about caves and karst landscapes makes people better stuards of their land. Public knowledge of cave locations is generally viewed as bad. With that in mind, it's like walking a tight rope when dealing with the outside world.

Anytime you're viewed as a caver, all public interactions become an opportunity to inform people about their relationship with caves and karst. Having practiced "elevator pitches" regarding the importance of this delicate environment is a strategy that I employ. I suggest that you memorize the Leave no Trace ethic as a first step. Having easily available resources to support and illustrate your position are helpful as well.

Other elevator pitches could be discussing safety and proper caving gear. It may be helping people understand the connection between sinkholes and the well water they drink.

We get to see the Earth from the inside out, and that makes our relationship with it different than most people's. Where I live many rivers run underground. Some of these rivers are horribly polluted with chemicals and trash. If they looked like that on the surface people would get angry and do something about it. Because it is out of sight to most people, we must bring it to their mind.


In my previous post I talked about ways to volunteer within the caving community. We can also be volunteering or partnering outside the caving community and working with organizations to help make the world a better place.

The Upper Cumberland Grotto has partnered to do clean ups with groups like the Boy Scouts of America, Putnam County Clean Commission, The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to name a few. For a smaller grotto, hosting one major cleanup a year is a good goal.

Other volunteer opportunities may be talking with local schools about cave related issues, or leading a field trip of college students. I try not to miss an opportunity to educate.


There are several biologists who work in caves, and the Tennessee Cave Survey has a long history of working with them to collect specimens and data within the cave. Many of us have become adept at finding and identifying cave critters.

Other scientists may need a caver liaison as well. At Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming in the Summer of 2016 cavers equipped and trained a large team of paleontologists on single rope technique so they could examine and dig in this pristine and one of a kind cave.

Archaeologists, historians, microbiologists, geologists, and other scientists use information provided to them from observant cavers to make discoveries.


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