Tom and Cathy Aley receive MDC Master Conservationist award

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Conservation Commission and Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) congratulate Tom and Cathy Aley of Taney County on being the latest recipients of the MDC Master Conservationist award. The Commission recently bestowed the award to the couple at the Oct. 23 Commission meeting at Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon. Tom and Cathy Aley are the 63rd and 64th recipients of the award, which was first presented in 1942.

The Master Conservationist Award honors living or deceased citizen conservationists, former MDC commissioners, and employees of conservation-related agencies, universities, or organizations who have made substantial and lasting contributions to the state’s fisheries, forestry, or wildlife resources, including conservation law enforcement and conservation education-related activities. Learn more at

The Aleys have been national leaders in cave and karst research, conservation, and education for the last 45 years. Their efforts began in 1966 with the purchase of their land above Tumbling Creek Cave in eastern Taney County to establish the Ozark Underground Laboratory and Research Field Station. In 2004 they established the Tumbling Creek Cave Foundation to ensure the protection of the cave and associated lands into the future.

With more than 115 species calling Tumbling Creek Cave home, it is the most biologically diverse cave west of the Mississippi River and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1981.

The Aleys have conducted more than 60 groundwater trace studies to determine the cave’s nine-square-mile recharge area, linking important surface features to the health of the cave. Over the course of the last half century, they have acquired and restored over 3,500 acres of land in the recharge area.

They have dedicated their lives to protecting caves and karst with a strong focus on education. Since the 1960s, the Ozark Underground Laboratory and Research Field Station -- and later the Tumbling Creek Cave Foundation -- have provided more than 2,000 field trips for students and professionals on the surface land and into the cave.

For the last four decades, the Aleys have also conducted and consulted on hydrogeological studies of caves and karst systems across the globe. Much of their innovative work has become standard practice in the field of dye-tracing and their services have been contracted by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, MDC, and other states, counties, and municipalities.

“Tom and Cathy Aley have made incredible contributions in the fields of cave research, hydrology, karst education, and land stewardship,” said Commission Chair Don Bedell. “They truly exemplify what it means to be Master Conservationists.”