WHO ARE WE ?
We are a chapter of the National Speleological Society, located in the central limestone mountains of Pennsylvania. Our Grotto (NSS chapter) explores, surveys, photographs, and manages caves. We also promote cave conservation and education. The National Speleological Society has been around since 1941, and its members, though volunteers, are true cave professionals. The Huntingdon County Cave Hunters grotto was NSS chartered in 1985. In 1997, the HCCH incorporated in Pennsylvania as a 501c-3 non-profit organization. Members are of young to senior ages and come from all occupations.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE ...
There are many people interested in exploring wild caves. Because of this interest, many early "spelunkers" decided to create an organization so that caves could be explored not only for fun, but also for scientific and conservation reasons. In 1941, the National Speleological Society formed and today there are over 12,000 members with over 200 chapters (or Grottos). Most states have a chapter in which you can join. The N.S.S. offers many benefits of being a member. Among them: you can access a cave library, buy books, videos, obtain educational cave information, and receive a monthly newsletter. It is a wise decision to join the N.S.S. regardless if you plan to be the "hard-core" caver or just the armchair type.
WHY JOIN A GROTTO ?
A Grotto is a chapter of the N.S.S., and there is one probably near you. The Grotto is made up of local residents and others who share a common interest in caves and caving. This is where most "flashlight" novice explorers (or Spelunkers) get started into the real underground world and learn that special equipment and techniques are needed in order to explore caves safely! Remember, caves can be an unforgiving experience if you don't know what you are doing.
Grottos are also a good source of information on bat conservation, protection of caves, cave locations, cave maps, etc. Besides just exploring caves, you might have the opportunity to help (and learn) in mapping, photography, digging, historic and scientific research, school and youth-group presentations, cave rescue, building cave gates and other things. For those who dare, vertical rope techniques (not hand-over-hand) are taught in order to explore vertical caves.
Most Grottos have meetings at least once a month, and a newsletter to keep you updated with the latest information in the caving world. Pennsylvania has about twelve Grottos in various parts of the state. While you can join most Grottos without being an NSS member (Associate), you will be encouraged to join the N.S.S. at some time during your Grotto membership. If you are serious about caves and caving, then joining a grotto and becoming an NSS member could be a wise choice!
While a few cavers may venture on their own, most caves visited today either through direct Grotto trips or in some way connected with Grotto membership. Belonging is a smart choice!
WHY DIDN’T I HEAR ABOUT GROTTOS BEFORE ???
While some Grottos encourage new membership at colleges or science fair functions, the Huntingdon County Cave Hunters like many other Grottos, do not. In general, Grottos do not advertise or promote to gain membership. Some Grottos tend to be quite secretive and probably will not give you any cave information (locations or access contacts) unless you are a member in good standing. This is not unusual and can be expected in organized caving. Many caving organizations feel that those who have a genuine sincere interest in caving will most likely find a chapter.
Caving is not like any other type of hobby or sport (e.g., hunting, fishing, hiking.)! Uncaring people are vandalizing caves at an alarming rate, and cave life has suffered greatly too. The general feeling among organized cavers is that a small group of serious conservation-minded people who explore caves safely is better than a large crowd who may just be curious thrill-seekers and care little about the underground world. Unlike other hobbies, caves are not a renewable resource ... at least not in our lifetime.
Many caves have been closed to everyone (including cavers) by property owners because of some thoughtless people who were either careless, could care less about caves, their own safety or even the landowners property and privacy rights. This is one of the reasons why Grottos and conservation organizations have started to gate caves around the country. Not everyone is happy with gates but they do protect the cave from vandals, the owner of liability and the cave-life (such as bats).
THE HUNTINGDON COUNTY CAVE HUNTERS …. WHO?
The Cave Hunters began around 1982 when many local unaffiliated cavers found each other while exploring area caves. They soon decided that an organizational tool was needed to group many of these people together for the same common interest. In 1985, the National Speleological Society chartered the HCCH as one of its own chapters. About ten years later, the HCCH decided it was time to incorporate with its own identity while remaining a chapter of the NSS. In 1997, the HCCH became the Huntingdon County Cave Hunters, Inc., a non-profit 501c-3 organization.
Although, the membership has aged and many of the “easy to find” caves have been found, they still find, explore, map, photograph, gate, present educational presentations, lead youth educational trips and manage caves. Many caves are gated by the HCCH along with being managed when cave owners leave no other option. When the cave landowner (for various reasons) has serious concerns about keeping the public out of wild caves, then caving organizations (like the HCCH) get involved. The HCCH has given out educational cave presentations or lead trips for schools, church groups, boy and girl scouts and numerous other youth organizations. Several news media have written stories or broadcast on TV activities of the HCCH or some of its membership.
Although the excitement of exploration continues to interest many, caving today is not like a Mark Twain adventure. Using safety skills, equipment, along with good conservation and experience will continue the hobby of caving well into the future.