The Danger of Exploring Caves
Going on a float trip can be an exciting way to experience nature. People come from all over the country just to enjoy floating on the beautiful rivers and streams that wind there way through the woods of Missouri. Floaters will generally see a vast variety of landscapes from jetting cliffs, pristine woods and even caves.
Missouri is home to some 6,300 caves at last count. By having a vast number of caves, many floaters can view them while paddling down the rivers. Just like the wildlife, caves should only be viewed from afar. Even though it may be tempting to explore a cave, these unique formations can be deadly.
In Missouri, the common saying is “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it will change.” Thunderstorms can pop up at anytime, dumping large amounts of rain in a matter of minutes. Not only does this cause flash flooding in the Missouri waterways, it also causes flash flooding in caves. In an instant the caves that were once dry can quickly become filled to the top with rushing water.
Missouri caves support over 900 species of wildlife including, or course, bats. These species are called cave-dependent because their habitat is limited. Many of these species are sensitive to changes in their environment. For this reason, protecting these cave environments is critical to the survival of cave-dependent species. When humans go into a cave, they can cause serious damage to the cave ecosystem without even realizing it.
In ancient times, many Native American and prehistoric tribes used caves for shelter or religious reasons. They left behind paintings and items from their daily life. There are even many cave sites that contain ancient artifacts that are yet to be discovered. Since the state is abundant with caves, many are closed off to the public due to the archeological digs being done there. These artifacts can be damaged and lost due to unauthorized people entering into a cave.
The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources all work together with scientists and cavers to help preserve and study the caves in the state. A majority of the caves are on public land. These caves fall into three classes. Class 1 caves are open to the public, Class 2 is restricted access and Class 3 is closed for various reasons. Other caves in the state are privately owned and public access is not allowed. A permit is generally required to enter many of the caves in Missouri.
If you really want a cave experience that is safe, there are many caves that offer tours. Meramec Caverns, Onondaga Cave and Fantastic Caverns for example take tours through this underground landscape. Some are even handicap accessible and children are welcome.
Next time you and a group of friends want to take a break from floating and check out a cave, do it the safe way. Many of the caves that offer tours to the public are located by popular floating destinations.