Cave / Karst Systems
ATTENTION! White Nose Syndrome Affecting Bats (Download Poster PDF)
By some accounts Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks could have been set aside solely to protect the amazing caves found in this area of the Southern Sierra Nevada. The two parks protect half of the caves more than a mile long in California, the longest cave in the state, numerous karst streams and some of the best alpine karst topography in the United States. The caves contain Pleistocene era fossils, rare minerals and unique animals. They are the sites of numerous scientific research projects and provide recreational opportunities to thousands of park visitors each year.
Photo by Dick LaForge
Efforts to protect and manage this resource are nearly as old as the parks themselves. The parks' first superintendent, Walter Fry, gave detailed descriptions of five of the caves in his 1918 annual report. Crystal Cave has been one of the parks' primary visitor attractions since 1941. In the 1970s, the Cave Research Foundation documented more than 80 caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. However, it was the discovery of Hurricane Crawl Cave in 1986 that encouraged the parks to begin an active cave management program. This effort resulted in the employment of a "cave specialist" in 1992 and the completion of a Cave Management Plan in 1994. A revision of the first overall Cave Management Plan was also completed in 1999. Specific management plans have also been created for Soldiers, Crystal and Hurricane Crawl caves. These plans combine management strategies in a single cave. Some passages are open to visitation, some sections have visit restrictions and other passages are completely closed to protect delicate cave features.
Another important area of work in park caves is restoration. While restoration in a national park seems surprising, past visitors and employees in the parks have made reversible mistakes that damaged and altered caves. In some cases, caves can restore themselves through natural processes that remove or cover dirt, graffiti, paint and soot. This process is happening right now in Clough and Crystal caves. Crystal Cave has also seen restoration projects that removed tons of blast rubble dumped into the cave during trail construction in the 1930s. Work in the cave has removed damaging lint and dirt from formerly pristine walls. In 1998 a workroom built into the cave was partially restored in the hope that this would provide more habitat for Pimoa spiders that live only near the cave's four entrances. Cave enthusiasts first explored Soldiers Cave in 1949 and 1950. Since then it has remained a popular cave with recreational cavers. Unfortunately the cave combines muddy areas with passages that have beautiful white walls and delicate formations. Through the 50 years that the cave has been open for caving trips, hundreds of square feet of the cave's walls were muddied and damaged. In 1994 and 1995 water from a nearby surface stream was diverted for a few days through hoses that led into the cave's damaged passages. This water was used to clean these surfaces and restore the cave to its original appearance and character.