Cavers convention to roost in Glenwood
July 14, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – More than 1,200 cave enthusiasts, recreational spelunkers and scientists from around the world will descend on Glenwood Springs next week for the National Speleological Society’s 70th anniversary convention.
It’s one of the largest conventions ever hosted by the city, and for a longer duration than usual, said Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association President and CEO Marianne Virgili.
“We’ve had conventions with close to a thousand people before, but we typically host groups of around 200 or 250,” Virgili said. “This is a big boon for the local economy, and we’re real fortunate to have a natural attraction like the Glenwood Caverns that can bring a group like this to Glenwood.”
The NSS convention will run from July 18-22, including meetings, scientific workshops and lectures at Glenwood Springs High School, as well as visits and recreational activities at the Glenwood Caverns and around Glenwood Springs.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming these cavers and their families to our hometown,” said Steve Beckley, who owns the Caverns Adventure Park with his wife Jeanne.
“There are so many activities going on during the convention, from presentations about paleontology and ecology to caving expeditions and a vertical climbing contest,” he said. “It is going to be a busy and exciting week.”
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Glenwood Caverns will close to the general public at 5 p.m. Monday for a private party to welcome the convention attendees.
Throughout the week, the Caverns will host sessions on cave photography, art and mapping. A team will be also be on site exploring new sections of the historic Fairy Caves.
The only event that will be open to the general public is a screening of the documentary film, “Journey Into Amazing Caves,” at 7 p.m. Saturday in the GSHS auditorium.
Meanwhile, convention organizers are awaiting a federal court ruling Friday to a legal challenge involving U.S. Bureau of Land Management permits that were issued for limited cave tours that are also planned as part of the event.
The Center for Biological Diversity is appealing the BLM’s decision to issue the permits, due to concerns about the potential spread of white nose syndrome in bats. The fungal disease is decimating bat populations in the eastern part of the U.S., but so far has not been detected in Western states.
The NSS sought and obtained an exemption from a temporary closure of caves and abandoned mines that was put in place last summer within the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service, including the White River National Forest.
Both the Forest Service, and more recently the BLM, agreed to allow limited access to certain caves, as long as precautions are taken to prevent cavers from potentially spreading the disease through their clothing.
Convention co-chairman Dave Lester said fewer than 50 people who are attending the larger convention will be involved in the cave tours on public lands.
The court challenge only involves two of the caves where the NSS has planned to lead tours, Lester said.
“Every person who goes in will have their own loaner gear provided by us, and will not be bringing in equipment from outside,” he said. “All of the equipment will have gone through a decontamination process.”
Lester said Glenwood Springs has been a welcoming community to work with to plan the convention.
“We try to choose locations that are fun and have interesting attractions for our attendees, as well as the underground caves, aquifers and geological features that we’re studying,” Lester said. “We also like to hold our events in smaller communities, because that way everyone can get involved.”
More than half of the convention attendees will be camping at a central location on the city-owned parkland west of the high school. The rest will be staying in area lodges, he said.
Among the presenters will be Rocky Mountain Caving magazine editor Richard Rhinehart, who has been an avid caver since the 1970s.
While the national group is celebrating its 70th anniversary, the Colorado Grotto, which is the state’s NSS chapter, has been around for 60 years.
“I just found a box of materials that had been lost since the 1970s,” he told the Post Independent. “In it was a collection of stuff from the 1950s and ’60s, including an article and documents about the Colorado Grotto’s trip to Hubbard’s Cave in 1952.”
Hubbard’s Cave is located east of Glenwood Springs just beyond Lookout Mountain.
“It was real interesting to read some of that, and was rather strange and coincidental that I found it as we were planning to come out to Glenwood Springs,” he said.
The NSS convention last visited Colorado in 1996 in Salida. The organization held its 2010 convention in Vermont, where there was also a closure of caves on some public lands due to the concerns about white nose syndrome.