Land Trust of North Alabama partners to help manage and conserve cave system

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Huntsville is known worldwide for its innovations in technology and development, but the Rocket City is also a national destination for outdoor recreation, including the exploration of its thousands of caves. The Land Trust of North Alabama has formed a new partnership with the National Speleological Society (national and local cave experts) to help manage the caves right here in the Tennessee Valley.

“We’ve identified a whole host of caves that are on our property, but not being cave experts ourselves, we’ve reached out to the National Speleological Society to help us quantify and qualify them,” said Andy Prewett, land manager for the Land Trust of North Alabama.

The partnership will speed management plans for caves located on more than 7,000 acres of land and opens up more partnership opportunities for further conservation projects, but was created primarily to manage access to the caves. The Land Trust wants to make some caves safe for permitted explorers to enter, and others, to determine which should remain a mystery.

“Some of them are very small openings,” Prewett said. “Some of these are very deep pits, which are just not safe to enter under any circumstances without expertise.”

The Land Trust tries to manage properties for a number of reasons, including recreation, history, and conservation.

“That’s what we’re looking to do, to catalog and identify all the caves that might be on Land Trust property, then develop some kind of prescription for how they might be integrated into a recreation plan, if it’s appropriate,” Prewett said.

There are 4,000 known caves across the state of Alabama. But cave officials say that number is just the tip of the iceberg. These thousands of caves open the opportunity for a lot of exploring and learning.

“These caves are formed in Limestone, which is basically a compacted sea floor,” said Alexander Dobrowolski, a liaison for the National Speleological Society. “We find shark teeth, and horn coral, and all sorts of sea life in the walls of the caves.”

Currently, the Land Trust manages about 70 miles of trails on more than nine preserves, and they say there are still hundreds of caves waiting to be discovered on that property.

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