Billy Clay Management Plan

(Revised May 2015)
Pocohontas County, WV

Introduction

The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC), a non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania, purchased 2.87 acres subdivided from a development located near Snowshoe, West Virginia for the purpose of creating a karst preserve. The tract includes both Billy Clay Pit and Clay Pit #2. Billy Clay Pit has recently been re-surveyed. The new survey indicates a total relief of 140 feet and a length of 6000 feet. Clay Pit #2 is located 140 feet northwest of the entrance to Billy Clay Pit and is a dead bottom pit, 25 feet deep. This parcel will be known as the Billy Clay Cave Preserve in honor of a previous owner. The MAKC believes that the caves on the proposed preserve offer excellent opportunities for education, recreation and research due to very low visitation in the past. Therefore the Board of Directors has made an effort to tailor this management plan to address those opportunities, while maintaining the caves in a pristine state. 

Ownership

The Pit, along with US 219 Cave, Clay Pit #2, Clay Pit #3, and Greentree Pit (the last three are all FRO’s) were on a tract exceeding 400 acres that was owned by Billy Clay (now deceased), a former candidate for Sheriff of Pocahontas County. The Clay family operated a sheep farm there. The current owners purchased the entire tract in 1990 from the Mowner Lumber Company. They are developers from the Canaan Valley area with an eye toward the increasing influx of Snowshoe tourist dollars. Up until 1998 they have operated a bed-and-breakfast (in the old Clay farmhouse) and a small, but popular campground on the property. However, their prime objective has been to subdivide, build resort homes and sell-off sections of the development to prospective second home buyers who want a retreat near the ski resort. The area also attracts prospective buyers in summer who are mountain bikers. The owner of Greentree Pit has built a deck with a trapdoor over the entrance. The old Clay farmhouse was sold to a lawyer from Charleston. In light of the owner’s plans for the property, the MAKC was naturally concerned about the impact of the development on the caves.

History of Exploration

While working on his “Caves and Karst in Northern Pocahontas County,” Doug Medville and friends explored and surveyed 2360 feet in Billy Clay Pit in a single day in August of 1975. The map and description (along with descriptions of the other caves on the property) appeared in WVASS Bulletin 6 in March of 1976. Between that time and August of 1997 the cave saw infrequent sport trips and an NCRC mock rescue. The developer was taken into Billy Clay by some cavers during this time.

In August of 1997 a surface survey was begun by Pennsylvania cavers to compliment a proposed cave re-survey. The developer was very interested in where the cave was under his property in light of his plans. This was completed in November of 1998 and totaled around two miles. Clay Pits #2 and #3 were surveyed in May of 1998 and published in the West Virginia Caver and elsewhere. The cave re-survey was begun in June of 1998 and was completed in April of 2000. Over one mile has been mapped. Approximately one half of that does not appear on the old map. While much of this consists of crawls and loops not pushed during the 1975 survey, some virgin cave was found.

Geology / Hydrology 

A large part of the former Billy Clay farm consists of a North / South trending valley which was formed by a tributary to Big Spring Fork. This nearly mile long valley is essentially dry, except under high flow conditions. Most entrances are formed at or just below an obvious limestone outcrop along the sides of the valley. Medium sized sinkholes are abundant, and most are located at the base of hillsides. Infeeding springs only travel a short distance before dropping underground, many times into a sink. This is especially evident at the head of the valley where the contact is crossed by several infeeding springs. This fits the classic model of Appalachian karst hydrology suggested by White and others. One spring has been diverted from a sinkhole to supply the farmhouse and associated ponds. Recent surveys demonstrate that a breakdown room in the cave is located nearly underneath one of the ponds. It appears that water leaking from the pond drains into the room and then enters the cave stream.

Billy Clay Pit is a multi-level cave formed along the strike primarily in the Union limestone of the Greenbrier Group. The passages generally trend NE / SW. A series of domes are aligned along a prominent joint oriented N60E / S60W on the fourth level. “Hollywood Boulevard”, the largest passage in the cave, also appears to be formed along this joint. In addition to the occasional speleothems scattered throughout the cave, an impressive, unvandalized concentration occurs in a room at the caves’ lower level. Details of this may have been left off of the 1975 map intentionally to prevent damage. This photogenic area deserves special care.

Base level contains a stream which appears to be part of the main underground drainage for the valley above, making for at least local hydrologic significance. The stream passage is characterized by large banks of ‘cemented’ rounded and semi-rounded stones typically a result of high water flow. Dye tracing performed in March of 2000 confirmed that this stream resurges at two springs along Big Spring Fork (with US 219 Cave serving as an overflow channel), one half mile or so to the south.

Biology 

The cave has a healthy variety of fauna, which can be attributed to its low visitation rate and a sustaining food supply which travels down the entrance series. This is especially evident in the upper most level, where bats, mice, salamanders and a number of invertebrates are regularly seen. Even birds have built nests in the entrance shaft!

Paleontology

In the upper levels of the cave (above the last drop), there are several areas with obvious bone deposits. In addition to the area near the entrance series, there are several domes and high fissures which may have served as animal traps in the past. Fred Grady of the Smithsonian Institution conducted an examination of bone sites in September of 2000. His findings indicate that the majority of the bones are of a recent nature, comprised most of deer. However, a porcupine skeleton and fragments of a species of elk, both of which are extinct in West Virginia since the mid 1800s were found.

Research

The MAKC encourages research to explore the preserve's historical, biological, geological, hydrological, paleontological and archaeological potential. Researchers who desire access to the preserve should submit a brief, written synopsis of their project to the MAKC board for consideration. Researchers are also required to submit a written report to the MAKC board no later than 30 days after the completion of their project.

Preserve Management Team

The MAKC board will designate a preserve management team to oversee the property. The size of this team shall be determined by the board and one team member shall be named as the preserve manager. The preserve manager shall report directly to the MAKC board of directors on all issues concerning the Billy Clay Cave Preserve. A team member shall be designated as the access coordinator (see permits section). The preserve manager may also serve as the access coordinator if deemed prudent by the MAKC board.

News / Publication Policy

The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, Inc. seeks to publicize caves only as befits our mission as stated in our bylaws and constitution: for education of the public about caves and karst resources; for published scientific studies in cave-related publications, and, depending on the sensitivity of the material, on the World Wide Web.

Specific cave location information will not be released to the general public; i.e., directions to the cave or maps of the cave. However, in publicity concerning Billy Clay Pit we can note its county and proximity to other nearby geographic features, such as it “is near the Snowshoe Ski Resort.”

In the event of a rescue at the cave, the MAKC will seek to minimize publicity of the cave’s location; while providing the media with necessary information on the cave/rescue.

The MAKC can use the cave name in publicizing acquisitions and in its newsletter and other caving publications, such as the NSS News and local grotto newsletters. The management plan will be available for publication in these mediums and can be published on the World Wide Web (with contact information), provided no sensitive material, such as bat count numbers, is released in this manner.

Specific requests for publicity concerning the cave/cave preserve that are not covered under this policy should be approved by the MAKC Board of Directors. 

Surface Management

Camping on the preserve shall be prohibited.

No campfires will be permitted. The collection of firewood is prohibited, except for deadfall.

There are no sanitary facilities on the property. All trash and waste from both the surface and underground must be packed out.

There is one designated parking area. Vehicle parking shall be in the former campground parking lot. 4WD is not necessary to reach the parking area in good weather as the development maintains gravel roads from the main highway for its residents. Please use only this area. Do not park along the access road. ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles are not permitted on the preserve.

At the request of the development owner, please car pool if at all possible.

It is highly suggested that visitors to the caves stay on the existing path from the parking area to the cave entrances in order to minimize long term impact.

Do not collect or damage flora or fauna found on the surface. The collection of rocks, minerals and fossils is also prohibited.

It should be noted that many of the above restrictions, including those on camping, trash, and ATV’s were covenants required by the development in our Agreement of Sale.

Access Policy

The caves on the preserve contain no graffiti, trash or carbide dumps. Very few speleothems have suffered damage. In short they are pristine and a therefore a joy to visit. We believe that is directly a result of a history of low visitation. The MAKC board desires to maintain the caves in their current state, while at the same time allowing visitors to enjoy the caves on the preserve. In order to strike this balance and mitigate concerns of the development owner and neighboring resident’s visitation will be limited and a permit will be required to visit the property.

The cave is open from dawn until dusk to properly equipped, experienced cavers. Each person must have his own set of vertical gear and that gear should be in good condition.

Trips shall be limited to one per day and group size shall not exceed 6 people. Smaller groups are encouraged.

Documentation or historical evidence of a “significant” bat population does not exist, therefore a seasonal bat moratorium on visitation is deemed unnecessary. However, because the MAKC parking area is not maintained in winter, and because the developer has expressed concerns about vehicles parking on roads in the development, or along US219, permits issued during the winter months will include the following language: “The MAKC parking area is not maintained in winter. Because the cave is located in the mountains of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, snowfall is often more significant than in the immediately surrounding, more populated areas. If there is any question as to whether your vehicle will be able to park in the MAKC lot and depart without the need of external extrication (ie winching, towing, etc), you should consider diverting to another cave or canceling your trip. You are strongly urged to check the weather in Pocahontas County prior to traveling to the cave (this is common sense safety for any trip to Pocahontas County in the winter). This is void for any vehicles not parked in the MAKC lot. Parking anywhere but the MAKC lot, such as on dirt roads on the property or along US219, is strictly prohibited, and the occupants of such vehicles will be subject to prosecution for trespass. Your cooperation will insure that future winter visitation is permitted.”

While membership is not required, it is strongly recommended that visitors be members of the conservancy. The MAKC is an NSS conservancy. Membership in the National Speleological Society is also highly recommended.

Visitor conduct should adhere to National Speleological Society conservation guidelines. Visitor conduct should also reflect NSS Safety and Techniques Committee recommendations for safe caving practices.

Illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, alcohol and alcoholic beverage containers are not allowed on the preserve.

Use of the property for any kind of commercial activity, including “cave-for-pay” caving (as defined by the MAKC board) or other recreational activities is prohibited.

Rigging technicians shall utilize the natural anchors available only. No modifications to the cave or property, including the use of bolts or other permanent climbing aids are allowed. Exceptions may be granted in writing only by the MAKC board.

No hunting or firearms will be allowed on the property. Fireworks are also forbidden.

Please keep noise to a minimum and be discreet in changing clothes. We ask this in order to maintain good relations with our neighboring landowners.

It should be noted that several of these restrictions, including firearms and commercial enterprises, were required by the development in our Agreement of Sale. Exceptions to any part of the access policy or management plan must be obtained in writing from the MAKC board of directors in advance.

Permits

Visitors are asked to submit a permit application at least two weeks before trip dates. Permit applications forms can be requested by US mail, E-mail, obtained at the MAKC tent at caving events or downloaded from the MAKC website at www.karst.org. The current preserve manager is Carl Pierce.

Applications will be processed on a first come, first serve basis.

All permits shall be issued by an access coordinator appointed by the MAKC board. Persons intending on visiting the preserve during caving events such as OTR or the NSS Convention are encouraged to make their arrangements early. If, however, there are still open dates remaining during said events, the access coordinator may issue permits on site. This is not a certainty, however, and it is best to for folks to check the MAKC tent at such events.

There will not be a fee charged for permits.

The permit will only be good for the date inscribed on it.

The permit must be displayed on the dashboard of a vehicle while in the parking area. Vehicles without a permit will be considered by the local residents to be owned by trespassers and they will notify the local authorities. A list of permit holders and upcoming visitation dates may be submitted to neighboring residents to insure compliance.

The issuance of a permit shall in no way be construed as blanket permission to cave, ridge walk or trespass on other properties within the development. Persons wanting to do so must obtain permission from the individual landowner(s).

Plans

The property lines and corner pins have been defined.

An access information sign has been placed on the property.

The path from the parking area to above the Billy Clay entrance may be enhanced / defined with some natural, biodegradable base such as wood chips. Minor erosion control brakes may be added to the path as needed.

Two unobtrusive corner posts with the letters “MAKC” will mark the parking area.

General property maintenance will be scheduled as well as clean-up trips to the cave and parking area as needed.

The property shall be maintained in its natural state and will not be developed or improved, except to manage its usage as a natural area.

The MAKC board will encourage the completion of mapping efforts. Final drafts will be supplied to the board and former owner by the project cartographer.

After completion of the survey, paleontological and water quality surveys may be solicited.

The access coordinator will maintain a visitation / permit issuance log, compile the data and issue a report to the MAKC board annually.

Liability Disclaimer

The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, its board of directors, the Billy Clay Cave Preserve management team or access coordinator, the National Speleological Society or its local chapters (grottos) or any individual members thereof will not be liable for any damages, accidents, injuries, or death on the surface or subsurface of the property. All the above named organizations will also not be liable for any damage or loss of personal property while visiting the preserve.

Future Updates

The original management plan was approved by the MAKC board on November 13, 1999. The MAKC board reserves the right to update, adjust, alter or amend this plan at any time without notice.

Changes in the management plan must be sanctioned by the board of directors, and thereafter will be publicized in the MAKC newsletter and/or website at the board’s discretion.