2024 January 7 – Stark Caverns ridgewalking

Stark Caverns ridgewalking trip report 2024-01-07

Time in 9:15am, time out 12:30pm

Participants – Bill Gee
Mike Kovacs
Candace Kovacs
Dustin Schmidt
Matt Naughton

Several years ago the owners of Stark Caverns acquired a bit over 300 acres of land lying generally west of the cave and across the creek. At that time there was some talk of walking the property looking for caves. We never got around to it because the main survey project was going. When the COVID pandemic came along, that also put a damper on activities.

A few months ago Dustin Schmidt took a detailed look at the area using public LIDAR images from satellite. He noticed several features that looked like they might be cave entrances. I set up a trip to go take a look. January is a good time for ridgewalking because all the leaves are off and the ticks are gone.

I arrived at the parking lot about 9:00am on Sunday 7 January. After getting on my warm clothing, Matt Naughton came by in the ATV. He offered to take me around the property for a quick tour. We drove along the Deer Lick hiking trail. Matt pointed out where a known cave was about 50 yards off the trail. We went by the top of a couple of draws that look very interesting on the LIDAR images.

Back at the visitor center Matt showed me some maps of the property. He mentioned that an old show cave named Flanders might have a back entrance in the southwest area of the property. One of the tour guides (Mike) mentioned that he knew of a cave in the north part of the property, but was not able to give us good directions.

Mike, Candace and Dustin all arrived shortly before 10:00am. Matt and I went out to the parking lot to meet them. As they got into their warm clothes, I showed maps of the area and explained what we would be looking for.

We had expected to be hiking to our objectives, but Matt offered to drive. The ATV had enough room for all five of us. The first stop was near the known cave. It took only a few minutes to find Sarah Cave. We grabbed GPS coordinates and photos of the entrance. Mike verified that the two apparent entrances connect to each other. We went in far enough to confirm that it is a cave and needs to be mapped. Sarah Cave matches up with one of the LIDAR features that Dustin found.

From there we drove to the top of the ridge. We all spread out and worked our way down the first of two draws. There were plenty of animal holes, but we did not find any kind of cave entrance.

At the second draw we found a large sinkhole that almost certainly leads to underground water conduits. The sinkhole is 15 feet across and 6 or 7 feet deep. Mike Kovacs captured some LiDAR images of it using his smartphone. We also grabbed GPS coordinates. It would be interesting to visit the sinkhole shortly after a heavy rain to see how it drains.

There is a small rock ledge in the stream bed about half-way down the draw which might hide a drain. There were no openings big enough for a human. Most likely the ledge happened when a tree fell across the stream and trapped a bunch of loose rock behind it.

There is another draw in the northwest corner of the property. We drove over there but saw nothing that was worth getting off the ATV to investigate. We were back at the parking lot shortly after 12:00pm.

Mike, Candace, Dustin and I had lunch at Si SeƱors in Eldon, then drove home.

Future plans: Sarah Cave definitely needs to be mapped. I will set up a trip to get that started.

There is a lot of trash along the hiking trail where it parallels a creek. It would be nice to have a cleanup day. There is enough trash that several days will be needed. Among other things – the carcass of a 1967 fastback Mustang.

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