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Cave & Karst Resource Management

Unless otherwise noted, all courses are based out of Hamilton Valley Field Station, located on the border of Mammoth Cave National Park near Bowling Green, Kentucky. See Logistics page for more information.


June 24-28, 2024

This course is designed for cave and karst resource managers and owners who oversee the stewardship, protection and management of caves and karst in a wide variety of settings and situations, including show caves. You will study state, federal and international laws, policies and practices that seek to conserve caves and karst and that are the legal basis of cave management and protection. You will carefully review and study cave and karst resources and the science behind these subjects including karst groundwater management; geologic features and minerology; managing cultural and archaeological resources; sediments and all they contain; animal and microbial life and habitats; paleontological remains; recreational values and more. We will learn what cave and karst managers do and how they do it, including environmental compliance in the context of cave management. You will study writing cave and karst basin management plans. On our field trips, you will study and see specific cave and karst management practices and techniques in use by state and federal agencies, at a cave preserve and as a part of cave tour operations. We are planning for field trips to historic Mammoth Cave, Floyd Collins Crystal Cave, Hidden River Cave and the Mammoth Cave karst and sinkhole plain, including Mill Hole, which has been closed for 25 years. We study special problems in cave management including cave diving, managing volunteers, data management, cave gates, cave SAR, etc. We will review current challenges to cave management, and the role of new and emerging technologies for managing caves and karst. We will study the special problems and challenges in managing show caves and show cave operations. We will have very informative guest speakers who are leaders in their fields in the evenings. At the end of the class, students will be prepared to manage cave and karst resources and to plan and prepare for cave management actions and activities.


This five-day, intensive course will take place at the Cave Research Foundation, Hamilton Valley Field Station located just outside of Mammoth Cave National Park in Cave City, Kentucky. There will be four half-day field trips to nearby caves, parks and preserves. Participants must be in good physical condition to negotiate cave passages and surface hikes, which are a key component of this course. There will be three daily learning sessions. Morning class sessions begin at 8 am and break at noon for lunch. Afternoon sessions will begin at 1 pm and end by 5 pm. There will be a two-hour break for dinner, after which we will have guest lectures on cave management topics from approximately 7 to 9 pm. There will be daily reading assignments.

Instructor: Joel Despain

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Joel Despain is the Managing Editor of the NSS News, “America's Caving Magazine,” and an instructor for California State University, Northridge and Western Kentucky University. He is retired from the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, where he was the Cave Management Scientist, and from the National Park Service and US Forest Service where he was a Cave Management Specialist for 27 years. He has written multiple cave management plans, and has worked in more than 30 Park Service units and national forests. He has authored five books on caves, caving projects and cave research, been the lead or co-author on more than 20 professional publications and has written hundreds of articles on caves, caving and caving projects. He has served on the board of directors for the Cave Research Foundation and the Western Cave Conservancy and was the NSS International Exploration Chair for more than 20 years. He currently manages caving projects in Kentucky, California, Idaho, Guyana, Panama, Jamaica and the Philippines. Previous projects include six expeditions to Borneo, two to China, four to Cuba, three to Haiti and 19 weeks in Lechuguilla Cave, New Mexico. Joel received a BA in Magazine Journalism from the University of Missouri, Colombia in 1985, and a MS in Geosciences from Western Kentucky University in 2006.

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