Q. What is a grotto?
A. The term 'grotto' is synonymous with 'club' or 'chapter', as in a chapter of a larger organization. The Dogwood City Grotto (DCG) primarily serves the greater metro Atlanta area, and is one of around 250 chapters of the National Speleological Society.
Q. What is the National Speleological Society?
A. The National Speleological Society (NSS) is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the scientific study of caves and karst; protecting caves and their natural contents through conservation, ownership, stewardship, and public education; and promoting responsible cave exploration and fellowship among those interested in caves. [taken from the NSS mission statement]
The NSS is our parent organization. Almost all of us are also members of the NSS.
Q. What other cave-related groups are there?
A. One example is the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc.(SCCi). The SCCi buys and preserves caves, and currently owns and manages almost 200 caves in the southeast. Many of us are SCCi members, and we love to visit SCCi caves.
Many of us are also members of the Georgia Speleological Society (GSS). Some are also members of the Alabama Cave Survey(ACS), and the Tennessee Cave Survey(TCS). These memberships cover the region collectively known as TAG.
Q. What is TAG?
A. Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, or TAG for short, is one of the most cave-rich regions of the world, and has the highest concentration of caves in the country. Although few are aware, TAG is home to multiple tens of thousands of caves. Some of the most extensive caving systems, deepest pits, and unique formations can be found in this area, and people visit them from all over the world.
Q. How do I see all these great caves?
A. Join the Dogwood City Grotto! Part of our mission is to get people into caves safely. In addition, we also help preserve these fragile, non-renewable underground resources. We can help you learn about safe caving, help you pick out and buy gear, and show you how to explore caves without harming them or the creatures that live in them. We can even show you how to take the best pictures or lead the best trips.
Not sure if you want to join? We have different levels of membership. We also go on trips that also welcome non-members. Our monthly meetings are always free to attend, and are a great way to meet us. Some are even near fun caves.
Q. Can't I just visit the caves on my own? Why do I have to join a group to learn their locations?
A. Most caves are on private land. Very few are on public land. Caves that get abused become closed to everyone, including even the most responsible, veteran cavers. People new to caving may unknowingly abuse caves; examples include touching formations or creatures, walking in protected areas, or not using pads when rigging rope. There are even some people who intentionally abuse caves, leaving behind trash, graffiti, and even human waste. We subscribe to a "leave no trace" philosophy, and do our best to protect our underground treasures from both accidental and intentional harm. This includes only sharing locations with those who we trust to also cherish and protect them.
Q. Isn't that like keeping the caves secret, for yourselves only?
A. Keeping cave locations secret from the general public is part of our conservation strategy. This strategy has been successful for decades. However, we're happy to introduce those who are both conservation and safety minded to the wonderful caves of TAG. This is why we ask folks join us on grotto trips so we can observe how they handle themselves when underground. If we simply shared cave names and locations to anyone who asked, many amazing caves that people have enjoyed for decades would be trashed and closed within a few short years. We've witnessed this happen too many times, and it breaks our hearts.
Q. Is that why I cannot find hardly any caves online?
A. Exactly. The caving community works hard to remove cave locations and cave names from the Internet and especially from social media. We need your help with this, as caves that become 'internet famous' are typically trashed within years. Some are ruined or closed forever as a result.
Q. What is the process for getting to visit all these amazing caves?
A. First, join our grotto. To join, attend at least one DCG meeting and chat with us. Let us get to know you, how you found out about us, and what interests you in exploring caves.
You'll also want to join the NSS and maybe even some other organizations. We can help with that later.
After you join the DCG, join us on a cave trip! Some of our meetings are within walking distance of some of the most amazing caves! As a new member, we'll pick a trip that matches with your experience level. If you've never been into a cave, we'll send you on a beginner trip. If you've been caving before, then we'll send you on a more advanced trip. As you get to know people, and they get to know you, you'll be invited to and allowed to join increasingly difficult and special trips. This way, we can help protect you from the cave, and the cave from you.
Q. What if I am already a caving expert?
A. We'll still want to see how you handle yourself before going on advanced trips. If you demonstrate both a solid ability and a mind for conservation and safety, you'll soon be able to enjoy all TAG has to offer. Our goal is not to hold you back...we love introducing people to new caves and watching them progress! However, after decades of having new people join, we have found that simply relying on a person's verbal claims of ability and knowledge is a likely path to an emergency situation or damage to a cave. So don't tell us...show us.
Q. What if I don't know what gear to get, how to climb rope, etc?
A. This is one of the major benefits to joining a grotto! The DCG offers helmet rentals, vertical classes, access to an entire library of caving books, publications, trips for all skill levels, and monthly educational meetings. All of our members were once new, too. We're happy to help you figure out what will work, offer guidance, and point you in the right direction. Our members range from first-time cavers to seasoned veterans who hold patents for complicated underwater cave-diving equipment and everything in between.
Q. Is caving safe?
A. No. Caving is an inherently dangerous activity. People are injured and die every year. The caving we do does not involve guard rails, paved paths, and stairs. The kind of caving we do is NOT a tour. This is why we take safety seriously. Also, caving is not for everyone. We are happy to get you started, but we do not hold your hand - everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves. We try to help make it as safe as possible, but caving is not simply hiking underground. If we do not think you can handle yourself safely or if you cannot follow conservation guidelines, you will not be invited on or allowed to join trips. It is not just your life at risk, it is our lives, too.