NSS Convention 2007: Into The Eye Of The Storm
Posted by kadm732 on 03/02/12

Tom and I were looking forward to the 2007 NSS Convention in Marengo, Indiana. The previous convention in 1992 had been our first convention, and since that time, we had missed only two, in the far west, Pendleton, Oregon, and Bellingham, Washington. We were especially looking forward to it because we knew there would be many caves to visit, and a number of MAKC people were going. We planned to camp with Walt Hamm, who arrived earlier than us, of course, and with Andrea and Ray Gillis, who would arrive mid-week. Sue Moore and Phil Gowaty were hotelling it, and Kelly Hart set up on the hill along the road. Many other MAKC members attended, including those we saw: Emily Davis and Mike Warner, John Pearson, Gordon Birkhimer, Frank Herceg, Dean Snyder, Dan Peden, Dave Ruth, Rick Falconer, Chuck Hilpert, Carl Pierce, Dick Blenz, Bill and Peri Frantz, Thom Engle, Keith Wheeland, John Yost, Megan Yost, and probably a few others, which is the danger of trying to remember everyone you saw at such a large event.

We set up the indoor booth on Monday, sharing our space with Dean and Frank, and the room with Mike Kehs and another vendor.

The howdy party was held at the campground, which was nice. Walt had been scoping out the led trips, and we ended up signing up for two, the Wyandotte mega-trip, and the Lost River trip, on Thursday. So Tuesday, we headed to the Wyandotte area for some self-led trips, the first to Saltpetre Cave, which is a short fifteen minute hike from the parking area for the commercial cave—that is, if you know where you are going. I finally found the entrance, and finally Tom and Walt heard my yells and arrived shortly. We spent a good bit of time tooling around in this cave, which is essentially one large passage with a few small leads at the end. Then we decided to do a hike to find one of the other caves listed in the guidebook, which appeared to be a mile or so away. But we had a description. About halfway there we found the entrance to another small cave, which we didn’t know the name of, and did some crawling around in there. It was mostly hands and knees crawl with a few formations, and was a cool diversion from our hike for the half hour or so we spent there. Then we spent a lot of time going up the hillside and down the hillside and up and down the hillside looking for Wildcat Cave. We split up, each going our own way to try to cover more ground. Tom found an interesting area that sounded like it was what we wanted, but of course we didn’t find out about it until after we had already descended the hill—again. Tom led us back up the hill and meandered off as Walt and I searched an outcrop for the cave. I finally found the entrance, Tom caught up with us, and the three of us went in. It was a very steeply sloping passage, leading to a drop. The passage was sizeable and full of breakdown. Given the lateness, we did about half the cave and decided to head back. Tom showed us another cave he found, but we decided we wanted to find our way back in daylight, so we didn’t go in. The hike back was hot and long, but the caves were fun.

When I woke up Wednesday morning I discovered I had definitely aggravated my achilles tendon and another tendon in my right foot, probably negating several months of physical therapy. Having seen Wyandotte Cave at the last Indiana convention, I said the only way I’d really want to go back was if we could get an off-the-tourist trail trip. And Wednesday was that day. So I decided to suck it up and endure the pain and off we went. As it so happened we knew mostly everyone on the trip as a lot of Pittsburgh Grotto cavers had signed on for the trip, led by an Indiana caver who used to work as a guide at the cave many years ago. He led a fast paced trip, or as fast as you could go with a large group when you were climbing up and over breakdown, down and over breakdown, up and over breakdown, down and over breakdown, ad infinitum, stopping only briefly to see interesting rooms. The trip was a workout. Our guide had been trying to show us as much of the cave as possible, and after the trip, when we looked at the map, we estimated we covered at least four miles of cave. I was feeling the pain almost throughout the whole trip. But, I said to myself, you signed on, you showed up. Keep your mouth shut and cave. However, I knew there was no way in the world I was going to be able to go on the Lost River trip the following day, so I volunteered to watch the store on Thursday (and work on a cave map project), while Tom and Walt went caving.

After they returned we prepared to go to the photo salon, which was inside one of the rooms of an extensive limestone quarry in the town of Marengo. Just before we caught the bus into town, a tremendous storm ripped through the campground, the rain coming down in sheets. We drove over to the bus pickup. Walt and I made a break for the bus, but Tom didn’t. We later discovered he stayed at the campground as a second wave of storms ripped through, taking with it most of the easy-up canopies. Kelly Hart’s camp tarp, which was similiar to the MAKC booth, ended up against the fence of the high school. We didn’t know that the second wave had been damaging until an announcement about mid-way through the salon.

We decided to stay for the salon.

Tom, after helping assure everyone at the campground was safe, took our sleeping gear to the laundromat to dry.

Friday after we tore down the store, Andrea and Ray and Walt joined us to go to Squire Boone Caverns, a commercial cave not far away. (Tom and I had done Marengo Cave at the previous convention). Sue and Phil had recommended it and we could see why. It wasn’t a long cave, but it was very well decorated, and a huge rimstone pool in the back had a cascading waterfall which was just gorgeous. Everyone snapped lots of pictures. The rain had continued off and on for most the day, but we didn’t worry about the tent. We headed for the banquet, which was also in the quarry.

Afterward, we returned to the campsite to find pretty much everything in our tent soaked, so we decided to pack up and drive partway back. We made about ten stops near Cincinnati looking for hotels, but none had vacancies, so we sucked it up and drove all night, finally arriving home around 8 a.m.

Strangford Cave Project 2007
Posted by kadm732 on 03/02/12

For once, we had an MAKC project weekend scheduled which did not involve some type of disastrous event involving Mother Nature: i.e., a giant tree branch falling on one of our campers, hurricane, flood, or just a deluge of Harlansburg Cave-like mud on the campground roads once we got all settled in. Or so we thought.

Those attending this year’s event had a taste of something not seen since even before MAKC was formed a decade ago—the inside of Strangford Cave near Blairsville, courtesy of Greg Turner of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The cave was gated by the PGC in 1993 and aside from one trip arranged by Bob Eppley in the early 1990s for a special program related to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (which took about 38 phone calls to engineer), there has been NO caver access.

When MAKC formed, one of our hopes was to regain access to some of these caves. So when Greg became the new wildlife biologist in charge of non-game mammals, we set up a meeting with him. He cautioned us that there would probably never be regular caver access to some of the caves which the PGC has gated and closed for wildlife purposes. However, he said, if there were some projects we could suggest, that might be a starting point.

We like projects, so we suggested Strangford Cave. It was once a trashed party cave. Since the gating it was no longer a party cave, but it was still trashed. Spray paint graffiti, carbide graffiti, old bottles and cans and other trash items were among the offending items in this cave. But it was mostly graffiti.

Additionally, since we like to document caves, we also offered to have a “staff photographer” for the day and to do a resurvey of the cave and a color map. We also intend to show the surface features of the quarry as well as surface features above the quarry, to tell us more about the geology of the area..

So, that was a lot on our plate for a one-day project—more like a third of a day project.

The easiest part was conning Dennis Melko into serving as staff photographer, a job he did with both gusto and talent.

We had plenty of volunteers to do cleanup work, and we conned a few people into participating in the survey. Talk about multi-tasking. Paul Damon, Jr., Paul Damon, Sr., Phil Gowaty, Walt Hamm, Jon Hamm, Jeff Jahn, Andrea Gillis, Ray Gillis, Vince Kappler, John Long, Dennis Melko, Tom Metzgar, Kim Metzgar, Sue Moore, Eric Motto, Johnny Motto, Kevin Patrick, Dan Peden, Dave Ruth, Mike Schirato, Mike Shorts, Dean Snyder, Kerry Speelman, Greg Turner of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Megan Yost, Mike Zianni (and friend Larry) were among those helping with either the cleanup or the auction or both.

Some Cleveland Grotto members joined us for part of the day as they arrived too late for the cleanup and did a trip to Bear Cave. They included Alan Looney, Cynthia Norris, and a bunch of beginners.

After a long car caravan to the Sheetz in Blairsville, I led the way to the road which I thought I remembered as the way to the cave site. Greg hadn’t been to the cave yet, so I was appointed leader of the caravan. The road turned out to be a bit rough for some of the vans in the group, so the drivers pulled off about halfway back and we managed to get everyone back to the old quarry site. That’s about when Mother Nature came into play again.

We finally make it to the quarry for the first real caver trip to Strangford Cave since 1993 and we were greeted with a sea—no, an ocean—of shiny three leaved plants between us and the entrances. Just about that time Tom arrived shuttling Kevin Patrick (who was a little late) and Bart. The dog quickly bolted into the poison ivy patch, and was up and down the hillside, at the cave entrances, before we even remembered exactly where they were. Great, I thought, if I don’t get poison ivy from hiking through it, I’ll get it from the dog when he goes home and jumps on my bed. In a panic and itching already just looking at it, all of us who get poison ivy easily were beginning to worry. We all carefully picked our way up to the main entrance, once we did find it, and waited patiently as Greg worked at the lock.

Phil Gowaty, who is the Harlansburg Cave Preserve manager, makes it a point to do entrance gate maintenance a few times a year. It didn’t appear that anyone had been in Strangford Cave for a very long time, and, thinking of Phil’s good work, I wondered whether we would ever get to see the inside of the cave again. Finally, after much work, and with the help of the rock to jar the rust loose from the lock, the gate opened to a great cheer from all of us.

Bart chose that moment to run up the hillside again, and was poised to go into the cave first. Not wanting to touch him, I yelled at him, then yelled at Tom, to come get him. That’s the last thing we wanted, I thought, Bart to bolt into the cave and eat a woodrat or a bat before the project even begins. Tom and Bart were finally reunited and on the way back to the campground (with a diversion of a bath for both of them) as we started entering the cave.

Since we only had one shot at a survey, we let the graffiti scrubbers go first, then the survey crew divided into three groups. Walt Hamm, his son Jon, and Mike Schirato surveyed the entrance passage and its side passages, all the way up to the “T” intersection. Kevin Patrick, Andrea Gillis and I started at the “T” and took the right-hand passage. Kerry Speelman and Jeff Jahn started at the “T” and took the left-hand passage.

Many of the graffiti scrubbers worked in the entrance passage, and another large group worked at the “T” intersection, where it was really bad. Greg and Dennis each took before and after photos, as the walls were scraped clean.

Kevin, the author of Pennsylvania Caves and Other Rocky Roadside Wonders, particularly wanted to come on this trip to see this cave in his backyard, and to see exactly how we mapped caves. So he learned about the dumb end of the tape and watched over my shoulder as I sketched and took down data. We had a relatively easy survey, as most of the cave is walking passage, though there was plenty of detail to sketch in. The most complicated part of the passage I did was the breakdown room at the upper end, where the stream enters the cave, and where many cavers before us have looked for additional passage.

We squeezed and surveyed underneath the breakdown, over the breakdown, and even peeked in between the rocks when we could, but didn’t see an easy way on. It will be very interesting to try to correlate this feature of the cave with something on the surface. I remember some preliminary surface hikes years ago and don’t recall seeing surface drainage in the cave at all.

Kerry and Jeff surveyed the Tubes, which was a loop, and began the scalloped passage leading to the lower entrance. The connection between upper entrance and lower entrance has usually been written about as being too tight to traverse. Dennis took a picture from the lower passage showing stream passage no bigger than his foot, and, from the upper passage no bigger than a child’s foot, so it’s easy to see why few trip reports indicate a “thru” trip.

I finished my survey leg first and went to check on Kerry and Jeff. They had completed the Tubes part, but were busy in the stream passage. Walt was still working in the entrance passage. I knew I’d be getting wet as we exited to go outside and down to the lower entrance through the lush crop of poison ivy. Megan Yost, Kevin Patrick, Ray and Andrea Gillis, Dennis and myself took turns working to try to open the lock to the lower entrance. We were getting ready to give up when Ray finally managed to get it open. We let those going in see this part of the cave go first, then began the survey of the lower passage. And somewhere along the line we lost Andrea to the cars.

This quickly turned into belly crawl. Kevin, who had been going great guns on the survey, took one look at the belly crawl in stream and said “I’m outta here.” Fortunately, Dennis was up ahead taking pictures of the “connection,” and of a small flowstone formation. So he came back and we wrapped it up.

By then, pretty much everyone was out of the cave except for Walt’s crew. Most people were heading back to the campsite. Greg gave me the key for Little Wood Pussy Cave, but there was no way we were meant to get into that cave. I’m betting that gate had not been opened in more than a decade, and if it hadn’t opened in that long, it wasn’t opening now. However, one of the most interesting experiences of the day occurred while we were trying to get the gate open. Mike Schirato tried for a while, then I tried, then other people tried. While I was taking a turn waiting out by the edge of the outcrop, I heard a rustling noise, but didn’t see anything. A little while later I saw it—a nice-sized woodrat steathily creeping beyond the gate’s bars and along the edge of the outcrop to peer at us wondering what we were doing. It could fit between the bars. Why couldn’t we?

I didn’t have a camera, but I had a camera phone, which was in the Jeep, of course. Greg had a camera, but he was waiting to lock up Strangford Cave. When he finally arrived at Little Wood Pussy our woodrat friend was nowhere to be seen, probably settling back into his nest, behind locked gates. All in all, it was a very successful trip. Greg sent his thanks to everyone who participated in an email, and we quickly worked out a project for 2008 (see photo and caption at right). Those of us who get poison ivy badly went back to my place to shower while Dennis did us a favor and picked up the 10 pizzas we ordered at Pizza Barn. Tom did a good job with the auction, and the rest of the weekend was uneventful. Thanks should also go to Greg Turner for spearheading this effort, and for his willingness to let us help the Game Commission with another cleanup project next year.

By Kim Metzgar


Long Quarry Cave Trip
Posted by kadm732 on 03/02/12

After several months of research and planning, Jeff Jahn (MAKC life member) had an opportunity to meet the owner of Long Quarry Cave in Needmore, PA. From discussions with Jeff, who made this trip possible, the owner was caver-friendly but wished only to allow trips that were few and far between.

On Saturday, May 27, Jeff Jahn and Janet Tinkham (both MAKC members) of the Front Royal Grotto drove from Virginia to Needmore, PA where Mike Schirato and myself (both MAKC board members) met at the town’s post office. The day turned out to be sunny, humid, and very warm, a perfect day to be underground.

After a brief introduction and review of the cave and topographic maps, we were on our way to the owner’s house where we had special permission to park and hike directly to the cave. After arriving at the owner’s home, we geared up and hiked in the woods and up the hill, and quickly located the entrance of the cave in a small, abandoned quarry face on the mountainside. The cave was discovered by Henry Garland during quarry operations in the 1930s.

The entrance is large by Pennsylvania standards and issued a cool, comfortable breeze. Upon entering the cave, past vandalism of some formations was typical closest to the entrance. There was evidence of a significant bat hibernaculum present throughout the cave as guano lay scattered about the muddy floors of the cave. Very little evidence of spray paint existed but recent but interesting inscriptions on the walls were present especially at the end of the main trunk passage.

The three most notable features include a mud sculpture room, scalloped walls, and helectites. Unfortunately the camera was left mid-way through the trip so no photos were obtained of the sculptures. The mud sculpture room was small compared to other caves with these rooms but nonetheless impressive. Scalloped walls could be found throughout the passages.

Geologically, the cave generally followed a primary joint, with a few secondary joints following parallel to the main trunk of the cave, in the Keyser & Tonoloway formations. The steeply dipping rock beds contributed to the slanted nature of passageways and abundance of breakdown. Formations are uncommon except at a few areas especially away from the entrance. Helectites were found in scattered pockets along some passages. The cave is still active as standing water is present. There was no stream found during this visit. Estimated length of passage is over 1,300 feet (large for PA standards).

The nature of the cave was typical which consisted of crawlways, few stoopways, walkways, climbs, and squeezes. And not to forget, MUD! We came out of the cave covered from head to toe as if we were in Hall or Harlansburg caves.

In summary, a caver can expect a variety of passageways primarily composed of breakdown, and very muddy and damp to wet conditions. Knee pads are a must. This is a great cave for new cavers to provide exposure to a variety of passageways and conditions of a typical Pennsylvania cave. Though the mud in here is not as deep as in Harlansburg Cave, it is comparable. For more information on the cave and access, please contact the Franklin County Grotto.

By Kerry Speelman
May 27, 2006
Fulton County, PA

Caves On Laurel Ridge Add To Fayette County Tally
Posted by kadm732 on 03/02/12

Large sandstone outcrops are located near mile marker 18 on the southern side of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail just on the Fayette County side of the Fayette/Somerset County line.

Many years back as a boy scout hiking the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, a bunch of us camped at a shelter rest area near the Laurel Ridge State Park office and mile marker 18 at the Fayette/Somerset County line near mile marker 18. At that time, we explored the large sandstone outcrops just above the shelter area and discovered many sandstone caves, fissures, and canyons. Complex, multi-level, through-trip cave(s) have areas of darkness where a flashlight was required, challenging climbs, and walking passages. This was the first sandstone cave I ever entered.
Years passed while the thought of these caves remained in the back of my mind and as I began documenting Somerset County caves, they remained a priority since I could find no documentation of this Fayette County feature. After discussion with others documenting caves in the area, no one had ever surveyed on studied these features.

Between 1996 and 1998, I re-visited the caves multiple times while working for Laurel Ridge State Park. Further discussions with state employees who worked at the park confirmed the lack of documentation of the complex outcrop. I made multiple trips, cleaning up the shelter area for work and taking a few state employees through the main cave.

During Easter 2005, I once again visited these features in an effort to survey the larger caves. The complex nature of the caves and lack of help prevented me from attempting the survey. Now I was even more determined to complete the task.

After many scheduling problems and the un-cooperation with mother nature, the trip finally happened on Good Friday of Easter weekend in 2006. Kim Metzgar and myself arrived at the park office after steady rain shower ended and hiked to the shelter area under cloudy conditions and comfortable temperatures conditions.
You could easily see the sandstone outcrops on the hillside above the shelter area without any vegetation. The area appears to have little visitation as evidenced by the lichens and moss on the rocks around the cave.

After admiring the photogenic outcrops, we quickly located the entrance of the cave complex and began surveying the multi-level caves and passages.
Some of the caves contained snow and ice and were very cold (near freezing in some areas). We noted a large, open, joint-controlled canyon passage crosses the cave at the skylight where two joints cross. After surveying the entrance area, we dropped into the primary joint which the larger caves trend and surveyed to the skylight which separates the cave into two caves.


These features are located in the Pottsville Group of Pennsylvanian age. The exposed weathered bedrock is a gray-colored, coarse-grained, conglomeratic sandstone. Solutional potholes may also be found on talus blocks laying at the base of the hillside. Joints are well formed, with a high distribution. The joints exihibit regular patterns and are open and vertical. The primary reason for development of passageways appears to be from frost heaving along primary joint sets.

By Kerry Speelman

Carnegie Trip
Posted by kadm732 on 03/02/12

It was off to a great day. The sun was out and temperatures in the 60s. Sara, Amy, and I had planned a Carnegie Cave trip weeks ago and were finally going to go. It was Amy’s first time doing a cave of great length (greater than 50 feet). Previously she had done the Johnson Caves in Mifflin County, PA. We arrived at the parking area around 12:30 p.m. after obtaining permission from a landowner near the cave. He was delighted as usual that we asked for permission as generally most people don’t ask. Local Shippensburg college students usually park in the grass along the road and go to the cave. He had no real complaints about cavers. I asked about garbage and he said only a little is left here and there and had no concerns on this issue. He mentioned usually he can tell who the “real” cavers are compared to spelunkers and he will approach them as needed.

We geared up, walked to the highway culvert entrance pipe, took some “before” pictures, and headed in the cave. The ribbed culvert pipe that goes underneath I-81 contained the usual pools of muddy, standing water throughout. I once again forgot my knee pads and my knees got a good beating getting into the cave. When we got to the end of the culvert pipe, Sara noticed Amy had a brown mark on the back of her jeans. We made a few jokes and comments and then took another picture of her rear before heading deeper underground. Once we entered the first walking passage encountered in the cave, I immediately noticed some new orange spray-painted graffiti that I did not see early on in the summer on a trip to the cave with a Harrisburg scout troop. I looked elsewhere in the entrance area and only found that one section of the paint. Obviously the vandals didn’t make it too far into the cave or ran out of paint. We explored basically all the eastern sections of the branchwork cave without incident. There was no flowing water this trip, just the very muddy standing pools everywhere. I figured this would be the case since the stream which flows outside of the cave was dry as usual during the fall season. We stopped got some pictures and looked at both damaged and un-damaged formations.

Once we got back to the main room, we explored the northwestern canyon of the cave. For being in the cave probably over 20 trips myself, all went as expected. When we got the intimidating cork-screw type belly crawl, Sara and Amy made it through like pros but right before we started through I splashed my face with the muddy pool in front of the crawl and needed to flush my eye. Luckily Sara packed contact solution in the my cave pack and I flushed out the dirt. We leisurely continued exploring the rest of the cave passages. On the way back out of the cork-screw crawl, Sara took her helmet off coming out the crawl, and fell into a muddy pool of water, completely covering her face and hair. Amy helped her up and once again the contact solution came in handy. Sara looked like a mud covered monster or as if she came out of Harlansburg Cave. We exited the cave around 3:30 p.m. or so and took some “after” photos at the culvert entrance pipe and started walking back to the vehicle where I slid on the hillside near the cave entrance and gently and gracefully fell. It was all a good laugh. With all the mud and slickness inside the cave, I end up falling while walking outside. I got back up and we changed at the vehicle and attempted to clean up Sara with baby wipes. I didn’t have enough but Sara improvised and got her face cleaned up. As for the hair, it would wait for 3 hours or so for her and Amy’s trip back home to New Jersey. Overall a great trip and excellent beginners cave during low water levels but as always it is a muddy mess which you have to make the best out of it which we successfully did.

By Kerry Speelman
October 30, 2005

Just A Batty Fools' Day
Posted by kadm732 on 02/10/08

Dark clouds loomed in the western Pennsylvania sky on April Fools’ Day 2006, as ten adults, clad in work clothes, boots, and gloves, prepared to face the day—a day we were to spend planting four by four posts, atop which were affixed flat, black boxes with which we hoped to attract bats to the town of Dawson in Fayette County. No, we were not disciples of Harry Potter’s Hagrid—the beloved keeper of creatures unusual, great and weird. We were members of the Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, a western Pennsylvania based cave conservancy; the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club and residents and members of the Dawson Borough Council.

Yes, it was unusual that members of the borough council were helping plant the bat boxes—ten in all—on a lot owned by the Dawson Volunteer Fire Department. But it was a good unusual.

In the late summer and early fall of 2005, local news coverage of the regularly scheduled Dawson Borough Council meetings reported that many of the town’s residents were experiencing problems with bats roosting in residences. Many of the residents were unappreciative of the nightly bat flights emanating from their homes. Councilman Jay Nelson began looking for ideas to deal with the issue. At the same time Sierra Club member Kris Gunnarson of Pittsburgh picked up on the news story and wanted to help.

Kim Metzgar, a caver and founding member of the Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, who is also a member of the Sierra Club, saw Kris’ plea for help on a Sierra Club internet message board, and thought that possibly cavers and Sierra Club members could work on a possible solution for the townsfolk. Kim contacted caver Jim Kennedy, a former Fayette County resident who works for Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas, and who is also a member of MAKC. In the “small world” category, it turns out Jim’s grandparents were from Dawson and he recalled spending many pleasant boyhood days in the town, which fronts the Youghiogheny River.
Jim, Kim and Kris began an email correspondence with Jay Nelson, who did quite a lot of studying up on bats himself. This eventually led to MAKC applying for a Sierra Club grant to help fund purchase of ten bat boxes for Dawson, in hopes of finding the town’s bats new homes which were not also occupied by humans.
During the winter, Jay Nelson worked, with some success, to educate the residents about screening off the entry and exit points for bats in their homes, so when the bats return to town for summer roosting, they’ll be “encouraged” to use the newly-erected bat houses. Jay also had two bat boxes built using local volunteer help, which led up to the April Fools’ Day bat box planting.

Kris Gunnarson and Phil Coleman of the Sierra Club, Kim Metzgar and Johnny Motto of MAKC, Jay Nelson, Claudia .., and two other local residents turned up for the big day. MAKC treasurer Sue Moore, a BCI member, had ordered the ten bat houses, which could house up to 200 bats each, from BCI over the winter. They were shipped directly to Jay Nelson, with mounting kits and instructions.

Jay then purchased posts, attached the houses to them, and solicited permission from the local volunteer fire company to plant the houses in a lot near the river. He even had three of the postholes dug by the time the work crew arrived.

We met at the Dawson trailhead parking lot for the Youghiogheny River Bike Trail, part of the Great Allegheny Passage which goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. The lot is right across the river from the town, and we drove over a bridge which is to be reconstructed in summer of 2006. As part of the reconstruction project, Jay and other local officials are hoping to encourage the bridge designers to make the bridge attractive to bats, in the hopes bats will also roost underneath the bridge.
We helped Jay load the posts and concrete mix into his pickup, then headed for the “construction site.” Jay and Roy, another local resident, had all of the tools we needed to plant the posts, including a nifty battery-operated tape measure to help us determine if we had dug deep enough. We all took turns working at the postholes and in about two hours time had the ten postholes dug. We put nine bat houses six feet apart from each other on one side of the lot, and a lone house about twenty yards away. Phil and Kris made sure the houses were all facing where they would receive the most morning sunlight, Roy, Claudia and Johnny began mixing the mortar, and Jay, Phil, Kris and I made sure the poles were in place before the concrete was poured.

By noon we were finished, then Jay took us up on the hill above town for a bat house relocation project. He had received permission from a friend of his to plant the two bat houses Jay had made in his friend’s yard. The friend had consulted with a neighbor to make sure he was okay with it. Turns out the husband gave permission without consulting the wife, and the wife had a fear of bats. So, to keep peace in the neighborhood, we were to dig out and relocate these two bat houses to a more bat friendly section of town, not far from Jay’s house. We were becoming quite good at bat house planting, and the relocation of the two did not take long at all. By one we were done and headed into nearby Connellsville for lunch, courtesy of Jay Nelson.

We are all making plans, at some point, to revisit Dawson in summer to see if the houses are being used. Current theory is that the young ones soon to be born may be among the first to take up residence in the houses. We hope the town continues to sustain a healthy, happy bat population, and, with Jay’s continuing educational efforts, that most residents will appreciate our furry friends. “Who knows?” Jay says. “We might even attract some tourists coming to see our bat flight.”
Kris Gunnarson had t-shirts designed, which are for sale and will benefit the ongoing bat conservation projects of MAKC, which has a designated bat protection restricted fund. The design incorporates the town’s locale along the river, with a railroad running through it, and the rail-trail on the opposite side of the Yough from town. 

By Kim Metzgar
April 1, 2006