Rural Missouri - October 2021 - 54

RM | OUTDOORS
IN IT FOR
THE LONG
CRAWL
Roubidoux Grotto member Roger Preston inspects a rimstone dam forming beneath the earth in the crawlspace of a cave. The group assists private
landowners with surveying and cleaning caves, keeps a keen eye on wildlife numbers and introduces newcomers to the underground world.
An underground adventure with Roubidoux Grotto
by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop
I
t didn't take Kelsie Johnson long to fi gure out she had
no fear of the dark. Spending her middle school years
caving Camden County with her mother and her best
friend's family sent her on a lifelong adventure underground,
eventually leading to a 12-year career as a tour
guide in Camdenton's Bridal Cave. Now, as president of
Roubidoux Grotto - a local chapter of the National Speleological
Society, or NSS, formed in 2015 - she and a group
of dedicated cavers explore, conserve, preserve and introduce
newcomers to the local treasure trove of caves. They
could make that mission sound like a lot of hard work, if
they didn't have so much fun doing it.
" I like the recreational aspect of it, that's nice, but the
conservation and wildlife is the biggest part of it for me, "
Kelsie says. " You never know what you're going to see
when you go into a cave. "
Missouri may be offi cially known as the Show-Me State,
but it comes by its second moniker of the Cave State
honestly. The Missouri Speleological Survey pins the total
number of caves at more than 7,500.
" Tennessee is in a constant battle with us on that one, "
Kelsie says with a laugh. " I think they have us beat as far
as number of mapped and surveyed caves, but I'm sure we
have them beat on the actual number of caves. "
At fi rst glance, the formations, known as speleothems,
are what catch the eyes of most cavers. As water and minerals
make their way down from the cave ceiling, tiny soda
54 RURAL MISSOURI | OCTOBER 2021
straws evolve into iconic stalactites. Over long periods of
time, these formations join with stalagmites, forming the
massive columns that buttress the ceilings and passageways
of Pulaski County's underground chambers.
Karen Hood, vice president of the grotto and group
tour/reunion coordinator for the Pulaski County Tourism
Bureau, helped found the organization following an NSS
event. " I started caving immediately after that, " Karen recalls.
" I thought, 'What have I been doing all my life? These
caves are awesome!' "
Pulaski County ranks fourth among Missouri counties
with the most caves at more than 365. " Most of the caves
around here are privately owned by farmers and other
landowners, " Kelsie says. " We map and survey the cave
and clean out the trash and graffi ti, so they like having us
out here to kind of help look for things for them. "
Of particular interest to the members of Roubidoux
Grotto are keeping tabs on the underground ecosystem,
including performing bio counts of species they see in the
cave such as bats, salamanders and frogs. After years of
concern relating to white-nose syndrome and hibernation
disturbances that have wrought havoc on bats Kelsie says
the group is happy to report something of a rebound in local
populations. Missouri is home to many unique species
that make caves their home and have adapted to the environment
of total darkness. Some of the more striking and
rare examples include ghostly Ozark cavefi sh, Salem cave
crayfi sh and, in Taney County, Tumbling Creek cavesnails.
For that reason, the group takes great care to clean their

Rural Missouri - October 2021

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Rural Missouri - October 2021 - Contents
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