Management Plan

INTRODUCTION

The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania in 1997. The MAKC owns and leases several karst preserves in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The MAKC was established by cavers to preserve and ensure access to caves. We acquire and manage caves and karst areas for conservation, scientific study, and recreational caving.

Charles and Victoria Airey own a tract of property near Hedgesville, WV that contains one gated cave, Silers Cave. The owners and the MAKC have a common goal to preserve, protect, and maintain access to this unique resource and wish to partner in the management of this property as it relates to the cave. This resource may contain biological inhabitants such as eastern woodrats, bats, salamanders, and invertebrates and may be of significant hydrogeological importance.

BACKGROUND

Silers Cave was a favorite among cavers from the Baltimore/Washington DC area and SE Pennsylvania region until the property changed hands which resulted in the cave being closed around 2009. Silers is a maze cave with a total length of almost 8500 feet. Sligo Grotto managed the cave for absentee owners consistently through the later part of the twentieth century and up until the change of ownership, whereupon the cave was closed to the public. The cave is gated and the gate has been modified over the years from what was initially a chain mounted manacle to the most recent bat-friendly steel gate that was installed in 2001.

HISTORY

The first known recorded trip into the cave occurred on February 25, 1940, when members of the NSS explored it after a member found it the previous summer. The group could not ascertain an official name for the cave, but it was on the property of a Mr. Siler and the locals called it “Siler’s Cave,” so the name stuck. An old ladder was found in the entrance pit, which “did not appear to be trustworthy,” so the cave had clearly been known and visited for some time. The NSS group explored and mapped for 3-4 hours and produced a draft map. At the time, it was the largest known cave in the WV Panhandle until Cricket Maze Cave was discovered in the mid-1980s.

Davies described Silers Cave in “Caverns of West Virginia” in 1965. An incomplete map drawn in 1948 accompanies the description. Davies mistakenly gives “Meyer’s Cave” as an alternate name. Meyer’s Cave is nearby, but is a different cave.

A 128-acre farm, containing the cave, was purchased by Mr. Robert Wyly in the mid-1900s for the recreational use of his family, presumably from Mr. Siler. None of the Wyly family ever lived on the property, and they rarely visited.

The cave entrance was bulldozed shut in the late 1960s, but the forces of nature conspired to reopen the cave by the late 1970s. The Panhandle Survey of the West Virginia Association for Speleological Studies noticed and took interest in the newly reopened cave and began remapping it. The landowner, increasingly annoyed at over visitation, nearly ended the survey and closed the cave again, but the Sligo Grotto intervened and was able to negotiate a management agreement to keep the cave open. Sligo’s agreement with Mr Wyly in late 1978 required that the grotto gate the cave, maintain the gate, and strictly limit access to two trips per month. The first gate was installed in April and May of 1979 and that agreement remained in place for almost 30 years.

In 2001 the Sligo and Baltimore Grottos, which had recently co-hosted a Virginia Region Meeting, financed the construction of a sturdy new bat-friendly gate inside the cave. That same year, Mr. Wyly was awarded the Virginia Region’s Landowner Appreciation Award for his decades of cooperation with cavers and his long-time support of caver management of his cave.

Only a couple years later, Mr. Wyly passed away. Since his grown children had no interest in the property, the family decided it was in their best interest to sell the entire property to developers. Extensive negotiation with the family and the developers to try to parcel out the cave proved fruitless, and cavers unfortunately lost control of the cave. After several years, and with no houses having been built, the developers went bankrupt and the lot containing Silers Cave was sold. The new owners closed the cave and eventually sealed it. The current owners purchased the property in October 2018 with the intent of reopening the cave to the caving community.

GEOLOGY

Silers is a maze cave developed just below the contact of the Keyser and Tonoloway limestones, with the Keyser generally forming the ceiling and the majority of passages being in the Tonoloway. The cave is located near the axis of an anticline, and dips gently to the east. The cave is geologically related to Cricket Maze Cave, located on the next hill to the south, which is also a maze cave whose major axis aligns with Silers along the anticline.

The cave is mostly developed on one level. Most of the cave is an irregular grid, with tall and wide major axis passages and smaller interconnecting crawl- and stoop-ways. The major axis of the cave follows the local uplifting, leaving nicely parallel passages and dips gently to the east. The cave contains some formations, although it is better known for its mud. A very fine slip fault can be seen in the aptly-named Fault Room. Passages are formed along joints lying N 60 degrees E, N 20 degrees E, and N 30 degrees W.

BIOLOGY

The first documented trip in 1940 noted “All parts of the cave contained bats of the Pepersilus family, which, though not present in any great number, were generally plentiful.” No other type of bat was seen. This and subsequent reports also describe a “great number of cave crickets.” Bats, salamanders, and cave spiders were also common.

In 1963 Dr. John Cooper collected two male amphipods in Silers Cave. Dr. David Culver documented these as a new species of amphipod in 1967. He named it Stygobromus cooperi Holsinger. This amphipod is considered unique to Silers Cave and has not been identified in any other cave system to date.

John Holsinger included this amphipod in his 1967 article “Systematics, speciation, and distribution of the subterranean amphipod genus Stygonectes (Gammaridae)” in the Bulletin of the United States National Museum, 259: 1-176. The amphipod was also mentioned in The Invertebrate Cave Fauna of West Virginia (West Virginia Speleological Survey, Bulletin 7).

Silers has never contained a great number of bats, but some could almost always be found. White Nose Syndrome (WNS) reached the area about the time the cave was closed to the public, so its effects are unknown. However, the previous owners physically sealed the cave no doubt to the detriment of the bat population. It will be of great interest to see if the bat population rebounds after the cave is reopened.

MAPPING

The NSS trip in 1940 produced a map drawn by Robert Coats. An article two years later tells of the party carrying this map. George Burhans, a Hagerstown, Maryland-area caver, produced another map a few years later, only a couple years before his untimely death in 1953.

The cave description in Davies (1965) was accompanied by an incomplete and unattributed map drawn in 1948, which is now known to have been completed by George Burhans.

The cave was surveyed from 1978-1980 by members of the Baltimore, York, DC, Sligo, and Pittsburgh Grottos, and a map was drawn in 1980 by Bob Gulden, giving its length as 7243 feet and vertical extent as 60 feet. Additional passage uncovered since then has brought the cave to a length approaching 8,500 feet.

RESEARCH

Researchers are required to submit a preliminary report documenting initial findings, data, and project progress no later than 30 days after access to preserve. A final report is required within one year of completion of project. A schedule of reports for longer-term projects can be established if necessary. The owners reserve the right to comment upon published papers which might reveal sensitive information, and specifically prohibit publishing reports on the internet without their approval.

PRESERVE MANAGEMENT TEAM

The MAKC board will designate a preserve management team to oversee the property. The board shall approve the team at the recommendation of the cave manager and one team member shall be named as the cave manager, subject to the owners’ approval. The cave manager shall report directly to the MAKC board of directors on all issues concerning the Silers Cave Preserve.

NEWS/PUBLICATION POLICY

The MAKC seeks to publicize caves only as befits our mission as stated in our bylaws and constitution: for education of the public about caves and karst resources; for published scientific studies in cave-related publications, and depending on the sensitivity of the material, on the MAKC website (www.karst.org). Specific cave location information, such as directions to the cave, WILL NOT be released to the general public. The MAKC will seek to minimize publicity of cave locations.

The MAKC can use the cave names in publicizing acquisitions and in its newsletter, Karst Chronicle, and other caving publications, such as the NSS News, grotto newsletters, and the MAKC website. The management plan will be available for publication in these mediums mentioned above. Caving organizations publishing electronic forms of their newsletters should remove reference to the cave location in the electronic format/archive and may publish trip reports to the cave, where they are not widely available to members of the general public. Copies of published trip reports will be sent to MAKC at silerscave@karst.org. MAKC will send copies of reports referencing Silers Cave to the owners. Specific requests for publicity concerning the cave that are not covered under this policy should be approved by the owners, and the MAKC board of directors.

SURFACE MANAGEMENT

The MAKC has a lease agreement for Silers Cave only and has no responsibility for maintaining surface portions of the property.
Owners retain all surface rights and management, and may enter into agreements with other agencies, individuals, and organizations, as pertains to other aspects of the surface portion of the preserve and its management.

While on the property the following rules and regulations must be followed when visiting Silers Cave.

• All structures on the property are privately owned and should not be disturbed.
• Park only in the designated parking area.
• Be discreet when changing in and out of cave clothes.
• All trash must be removed from the property. Littering is prohibited.
• Follow designated path to cave. Path will be marked with tape or blazes for clarity.

SUBSURFACE CAVE MANAGEMENT & ACCESS

• While membership is not required for access to Silers Cave, the MAKC strongly recommends that visitors be members of the MAKC or the NSS. Membership applications can be found at www.karst.org and www.caves.org.
• The West Virginia Cave Protection Act, West Virginia Code, Chapter 20, Article 7A-1 through 7A-6, Laws of the Division of Natural Resources, Enrolled Committee Substitute for House Bill 834, passed April 9, 1977, in effect ninety days from passage, [is] An act to amend chapter twenty of the code of West Virginia one thousand nine hundred thirty-one (1931), as amended, by adding thereto a new article, designated article nine, relating to defining certain terms; vandalism of caves; prohibiting the sale of speleothems; prohibiting destruction or removal of certain plant or animal life; requiring archeological permits in certain instances; specifying liability of owners of caves and their agents; and providing penalties for specific violations. This cave law must be strictly adhered to (Addendum I).
• Keys shall be in the possession of the owners, the lessee (MAKC), and the cave manager. Persons or groups wishing to enter the cave shall call or e-mail ahead (silerscave@karst.org) to make arrangements with the cave manager to sign out and obtain a key to access the cave gate. Trip leaders must adhere to the key holder policy provided by the cave manager. All groups are required to contact the cave manager again shortly after the trip to report on safe exit, report any vandalism seen, and/or any damage to the gate.
• Trip access and criteria are as follows:
• Limit of two trips in any calendar month, first come, first served.
• Maximum number of participants per trip is 15 with exceptions approved by owners in consultation with cave manager.
• All trips must be led by recognized experienced cavers (at discretion of cave manager).
• Absolutely no commercial or for-pay use.
• Organized groups (scouts, churches, schools, etc.) must fill out a trip request _(link)__and submit to the cave manager for approval. Any group that does not have trip leaders with the necessary experience may be permitted access if the cave manager approves.
• Caving clubs, with affiliation to the National Speleological Society (NSS), are not required to fill out a trip request form for access.

• All cavers must be properly equipped. Each person should have a minimum of three sources of light, a cave pack with extra batteries, gloves, helmet, lug-soled boots and warm clothing.
• Visitors’ conduct should adhere to NSS conservation guidelines and should also reflect NSS Safety and Techniques Committee recommendations for safe caving practices.
• Alcohol and alcoholic beverage containers are not allowed in Silers Cave. Illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia are not permitted anywhere on the property or in the cave.
• No modifications to the Silers Cave or gate, including the use of bolts or other permanent climbing aids, are allowed.
• Human-produced trash and waste must be carried out of Silers Cave and properly disposed of off the property. No littering.
• The collection, destruction, and/or removal of plants, animals, minerals, or historical items are prohibited except as defined in the research section.
• Exceptions to any part of the access policy or management plan must be obtained in writing from the MAKC with consent and approval of the owners in advance.
• The management team may conduct occasional property/cave inspections and patrols to ensure cave groups adhere to this policy.

INITIAL CAVE MANAGEMENT

The MAKC and the cave management team will focus on these areas:
1. Restore entrance to its natural opening and perform maintenance on entrance ladder.
2. Develop a plan for securing cave with updated gate or modifications as necessary.
3. Continue studies begun over decades ago on this cave, starting with a habitat inventory with focus on bats and amphipods. Since the cave has been physically sealed, monitor bat population over time to see if and how bats return.
4. Conducting cleanup trips as necessary and remove any graffiti and trash.
5. Develop a remedial plan to humanely address a raccoon cave population that has expanded during years since the cave was closed.
6. Update map by surveying passages currently not shown on most recent map of cave.
7. MAKC reserves the right to conduct conservation-related trips to the caves and property, over and above the monthly trip limit.

MAINTENANCE

Maintenance of the Silers Cave gate is the responsibility of the MAKC and its designee. Major gate repairs, gate vandalism, or a break-in to the cave will be reported to owners. Major instances such as those stated above will be corrected by the management team and repaired with the cooperation of the owners.

Maintenance to surface portions of the property is the responsibility of owners although MAKC and its management team will initially work with owners on providing support and resources for demolition and removal of certain structures and misc. trash that owners would like to be addressed. MAKC and its management team will also conduct annual work days to assist owners with keeping path to cave and parking area clear of brush and debris.

LIABILITY DISCLAIMER

The MAKC, its board of directors, the management team, the property owners, the cave manger, the NSS or its local chapters (grottos) or any individual members thereof will not be liable for any damages, accidents, injuries, or death on the surface or subsurface of the property. All the above-named organizations will also not be liable for any damage or loss of personal property while visiting Silers Cave.

NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY

The MAKC promotes a policy of non-discrimination for everyone. That policy, adopted by the MAKC Board on February 16, 2019, is as follows:
The MAKC does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, granting membership, selection of project volunteers and serving on internal committees. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all board of directors, officers, agents, members, volunteers, and contributors.

ANTI-HARASSMENT POLICY

The MAKC follows the National Speleological Society’s anti-harassment policy. That policy is as follows:

The National Speleological Society and the MAKC are dedicated to providing a safe and harassment-free (experience) environment for our members and attendees at our events, on social media and within our organization. We will not tolerate harassment in any form. Any attendee that violates this policy will be (told) asked to leave the event and may be subject to further disciplinary action at the discretion of the MAKC Board.
Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate comments, inappropriate sexual behavior that warrants intervention, unwanted advances and touching, invasion of personal space in a sexual manner, deliberate intimidation, and unwelcomed sexual advances. In addition, harassment includes unwanted verbal, physical, cyber, or social aggressive behavior. The action of our members and guests will be closely monitored and if an incident of harassment is reported the event staff, volunteers, or MAKC representatives will (may) take corrective action against any offenders at the time of the incident, ranging from verbal warnings to expulsion from the area and/or event and a referral of the offender to the MAKC Board for consideration of expulsion from the MAKC.

If you are being harassed or witness another person being harassed, please contact a security staff member immediately. We will be happy to assist you and provide protection for our members and attendees. We value all of our members and attendees that come to caving events and want to ensure that your safety and well-being is a top priority.

FUTURE UPDATES

This management plan was approved by the MAKC board of directors on February 16, 2019. The MAKC board of directors reserves the right to update, adjust, alter or amend this plan at any time without notice, with consent and approval of the owners. Changes in the management plan must be sanctioned by the MAKC, and owners and thereafter will be publicized in the MAKC newsletter and/or website at the discretion of the MAKC board of directors.

ADDENDUM I
West Virginia Cave Protection Act

West Virginia Code - Chapter 20, Article 7A-1 through 7A-6
Laws of the Division of Natural Resources
ENROLLED COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE For House Bill 834
Passed April 9, 1977; in effect ninety days from passage

To view the WV Cave Laws, click here.