The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC), a non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania has leased Hesston Cave #1 and Hesston Cave #2 (Isett Ranch #1), Huntingdon County, Pa., on December 20, 2002. Hesston Cave was gated by the owner, Dan Denton, in 1994 and closed to cavers shortly thereafter due to vandalism in the cave by a group of college students who drove up in a college van and proceeded to spray paint the college logo in the cave. In addition, vandalism of speleothems and several situations of unauthorized visitation contributed to the closure. The owner has agreed to allow access once more for studies and documentation of the cave.
Bernard Smeltzer first mapped the cave on September 16, 1952, a version of that map appearing in NSS Bulletin 15, December, 1953. The Mid-Appalachian Region Bulletin on the Caves of Huntingdon County notes that the cave was: “Known to locals since the 1930s when the entrance suddenly appeared among the trees and pasture grass.”
After the cave’s documentation by Smeltzer, a number of trip reports appeared in the Nittany Grotto News. The 1958 Nittany Grotto News (referencing an article which appeared in the Netherworld News, and which was subsequently in the 1956 SpeleoDigest) noted the discovery of approximately 200 feet of additional passage in the cave: “On December 18, 1955, a group from Standing Stone Grotto were working below the Dome Room in the low mud crawl known as Mong’s Misery. Some digging produced a hole less than one foot high. The cave opened up with the result that 200 feet of virgin passage was explored. The new section follows the same general system of solution along intersecting joints as the original part of the cave. The room is known as The Celebration Room. “With over 1500 feet of passages, Hesston Cave has historically appeared among the long caves of Central Pennsylvania. The Huntingdon MAR Bulletin noted three other “Hesston Caves,” of 63, 10 and 15 feet in length. Hesston #2, also known as Isett Ranch #1, is also on the property of the current preserve. The other two caves possibly were destroyed or covered over by road improvements. Were they to still exist, they would not be on the current owner’s property.
The current lease was a unique deal: Owner Dan Denton of Hesston and his friend David Bockoras of Port Allegheny (NSS 16831) have always had a great interest in the cave. As a condition of the lease, rather than a monetary stipend, Dan Denton asked that he and his friend be made life members of the MAKC. Unfortunately, Dan and David both passed away. However, their friendship will long be remembered. As part of their life memberships they were also given the opportunity to name a cave.
This resumption of the lease, after a period of closure following Dan’s death, would not have been possible without the work of former board member Dave Field.
The first two years of the Hesston Cave lease involved project work, including a complete survey of the topographic and karst features and a resurvey of the caves on the property. There was also photo documentation of the cave undertaken by MAKC member Neal Krause, as well as other studies.