Milestones of Missouri's Hidden Hollows

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

of State Parks began adding parks to its system where karst and caves were a focus of interpretation and visitation. The DNR manages more than a dozen parks containing wild caves, as well as several parks with major show caves.

By the early 1980s, under contractual agreements, members of the MSS and Cave Research Foundation teamed up to inventory cave resources on government lands in Missouri so the agencies could make wise decisions in the development of their cave management plans. The agencies own fully one-fifth of the more than 5,500 caves recorded in the state.

And in 1993, cavers of Missouri took a bold step into the future by organizing the Missouri Caves and Karst Conservancy (MCKC) with the help of the Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT). Today, in partnership with ORLT and the Conservation Department, the MCKC is assisting in the purchase and management of a cave in southwest Missouri that protects the endangered Ozark cavefish. The MCKC also has purchased its first large wild cave in south central Missouri and looks to the future when it will own and manage other important cave resources throughout the state. After four decades of cave inventory, mapping and database building by the MSS, Missouri cavers also are becoming cave owners.

These are but a few of the significant milestones of Missouri cave history but they take us from the days when Europeans first set eyes upon the American heartland to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Missouri caves, once largely ignored unless they could be used or mined, have finally gained a measure of respect and protection for their inherent values. Hopefully, we now have the mechanisms in place to save the very best of these remarkable, non-renewable, irreplaceable natural resources and their precious wildlife.

Caving Safety

In Missouri, the most common caving hazard is hypothermia caused by exposure to 55 degree water. Some have drowned in cave flash floods, so keep an eye on the weather.

Newcomers to caving, should visit a grotto (caving club) and go through training. A list of these grottos is available from the Conservation Department, or at <>.

Cavers should always observe the following precautions

  • Wear a climbing helmet or hardhat with a sturdy chinstrap.
  • Wear an electric headlamp on the helmet, rather than carry a flashlight, so that your hands will be completely free for crawling and climbing.
  • Wear sturdy old clothes or coveralls, work gloves and good (but not expensive) hiking boots. If it's a wet cave you may need long johns or even a wet suit.
  • Carry two other reliable sources of light in a small backpack or fanny pack, plus new batteries and spare bulbs.
  • Never go caving alone or without the owner's permission. Go with at least three other experienced cavers. Always tell someone responsible where you will be and what time you will return.
  • Stay within your limits. Do not use ropes or cable ladders until you have been adequately trained by experienced vertical cavers. Do not jump in a cave. Do not climb down shafts that you cannot climb up again. Do not go underwater in a cave without being totally trained and certified as a cave diver.
  • Good caving habits: Don't smoke in caves. Tobacco smoke contains harmful chemicals and nicotine is poisonous to cave animals. Don't break speleothems (cave formations) or remove already broken ones--it is illegal, and it encourages others to break and remove them.

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