MDC caving tours offer cool Missouri outings in summer

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - On a typical July day in Missouri, spending time enjoying the outdoors means swimming through the humidity. Rather than dripping in sweat, one group attending a class at Missouri Department of Conservation’s Runge Conservation Nature Center found themselves underground dripping with cool cave water.

A group of participants traveled with Runge Naturalist Sam Stewart to Stark Caverns for Runge’s free Conservation Families: Caving event near Eldon.

Tour guide Lee Penserum led the group on an hour-long journey through the four levels of the cave as he told the story of its formation and history.

Throughout the cave tour, participants learned about the formation of these ancient geological structures including everything from the large cave system itself to the more intricate formations like soda straws, cave bacon, and cave popcorn.

While humans inhabited the cave thousands of years ago, Penserum said critters in the cave today include several species of bats, salamanders, northern leopard frogs, and crayfish.

All the way from San Francisco, Calif., Peter Wercinski enjoyed the tour, but did not think an hour-long tour quite did the cave justice.

“I could have easily stayed in there for two or three hours,” Wercinski said.

Wercinski’s wife Sue Ann, a Missouri native, and their two sons were eager to spend the morning caving, which is also known as spelunking. Living in California most of the year, Sue Ann Wercinski said they visit their mid-Missouri property each summer and winter, getting involved in conservation activities like this as often as possible.

For others interested in spelunking with MDC, Runge Nature Center will be hosting a second Conservation Families: Caving event 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9. The event is free and requires registration (ages 8+) There are 12 spots open for the next session, with early registration opening July 15.

For other events at Runge this summer, visit