Hesston Cave Management Plan

Approved February 8, 2003 and suspended following the passing of Dan Denton. Revised and approved October 17, 2020.


The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC), a non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania 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 and several situtations of unauthorized visitation. The new owner, Dorothy Denton, has agreed to allow access once more for study 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 known as The Celebration Room is large enough to stand up in, which is unusual for Hesston. The walls of the Celebration Room contain some embedded quartz crystals.” 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, formerly known as Isett Ranch #1, is also on the property. 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. During the first lease of the cave the MAKC re-mapped the existing caves. (Hesston Cave #1 and #2). Kim Metzgar’s 2007 map showed a length of 2166.1 feet and a vertical extent of 92.9 feet for Hesston Cave.


Hesston Cave #1 is formed in the Keyser Limestone. The limestone at this location strikes N40E and dips 35SE. Both the jointing of the limestone and the dip of the bedding plane control the passages of Hesston Cave #1. The joints trend N52W and N78W and the whole cave slopes between 20 and 30 degrees along the bedding plane. The entrance is gated. The gate consists of a semi-vertical corrugated drainpipe with a cross bar and locking plate mechanism. This pipe opens 8 feet below into a low room 3 feet high and 12 feet long. The passage leading off this room heads S52E and goes down a 30 degree slope for 60 feet and joins the main cave passage. The main passage is wedge-shaped and ranges in width from 4 to 16 feet and has an average height of 4 feet. This passage follows the strike for over 200 feet and leads to the entrance of the Celebration Room (the largest room in the cave). Openings on the west side of the main passage lead to the upper sections of Hesston #1. These upper sections form rectangular type maze passage. High domes and ceiling channels are common throughout the cave.The highest known room in the cave is approximately 30 feet higher than the entrance and 60 feet higher than the lowest known (stream) passage. Hesston #2, formerly known as Isett Ranch #1, is about 150 yards north west of Hesston Cave #1. This cave is also formed in the Keyser Limestone with the same strike and dip as Hesston #1. The entrance to Hesston #2 is 5 feet high and 8 feet wide. At eleven feet from the entrance these dimensions are reduced to 1 foot high by 4 feet wide. This passage continues for 32 feet in a direction of S38W with a dip of 35 degrees. At this point the passage is slightly offset to the west and continues for an undetermined distance. The ceiling height at this point is only 6 inches high. The entrance is not gated and is very conspicuous in the fall and winter of the year. (The geology of the Hesston Caves was compiled from various trip reports from the Nittany Grotto News, The Cave Hunter, The Netherworld News, MAR Bulletin #9, and personal notes and preliminary research by Mark Lancaster. A more in-depth geologic study is in the making and this current description shall be updated as findings dictate.)


The June, 1964 Nittany Grotto News noted that Hesston Cave had been part of a study by the Entomology Department at Penn State University on the occurrence of bat ticks around the state, in order to determine the distribution of the parasite. Specimens of cave spiders and mosquitoes were also taken. However, no report was published in the newsletter on what the study found. There have been various and mixed reports on bats at Hesston Cave. Instead of creating speculation on bat population and inhabiting species, the MAKC conducted bat counts and the figures reported to the owner.


Investigators have not delved sufficiently into the subject to yield any published reports.


Paleontological studies of Hesston Cave are incomplete. There are various references to fossils in old trip reports from both the Nittany Grotto News and the Netherworld News. MAR Bulletin #9 states that the limestone in the far end of Hesston #2 is composed of crinoids. Preliminary research on the ridge indicates various varieties of Bryozoans and Brachiopods. There is some indication that the limestone here could have been part of a reef complex but more study is needed to determine this.


Hesston Cave #1’s mineralogy has been studied as early as the 1950s. Nittany Grotto members visiting the cave in 1952 noted that they found “large quartz crystals embedded in calcite.” In an article appearing in the 1956 SpeleoDigest, originally appearing in the Netherworld News, William B. White mentioned cave pearls from Hesston Cave #1: “Over the past several years the author has seen pockets of concretions variously known as oolites or cave pearls in six caves. … There seem to be two distinct types of concretions. Some found earlier in Hesston and Bears Den Caves in central Pennsylvania were round with a dark, very rough crystalline surface. These were found associated with rimstone pools.” The 1959 Nittany Grotto News noted that: “while cavers roamed the cave, mineral collecting, as part of the work concerning gypsum, was done. [We] uncovered globulites, the bulbs of which are possibly aragonite. Quartz crystals were found in the clay lens along joints. One small stalactite was covered with an odd white, powdery material. It is hoped that modern methods may be used for absolute identification.” Further research needs to be done to uncover early studies of Hesston Cave #1’s mineralogy as well as other aspects of the cave. In the 1961 Nittany Grotto News the first signs of vandalism in Hesston Cave #1 were reported: “Much vandalism has been done in this cave and Nick brought back some broken bacon, etc., which was found scattered on the floor.” The 1968 SpeleoDigest noted that: “All the large rooms in the upper part of the cave have white to cream-colored speleothems. Speleothems in the lower passages are dark brown and broken.” It is a sad thing to see as one reads the history of Hesston #1 that early reports talk about very nice formations throughout the cave and as time goes by we start seeing words like “used to have” and “had” in the description of Hesston’s formations.


Researchers are required to submit a preliminary report documenting initial findings, data, and project progress no later than 30 days after access to the cave. A final report is required within one year of completion of project. A schedule of reports for longer-term projects can be established if necessary. Also, any publications resulting from this research shall also be provided to the MAKC board. Any reference to the cave’s location must be approved prior to publication (see publication policy below).


The MAKC board will designate a management team to oversee the property. The board shall determine the size of this team and one team member, Dave Field, has been named as the cave manager. The assistant cave manager will be Paul Winter. The cave manager shall report directly to the MAKC board of directors on all issues concerning Hesston Cave. Additionally, the owner, Dorothy Denton, will be part cc’d on emails to the  hesstoncave@karst.org email address. To contact the cave manager e-mail: hesstoncave@karst.org.


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 Hesston Cave #1 and Hesston Cave #2 we can note their county and proximity to other caves, such as it is near our Hall Cave Preserve, and to other nearby geographic features, such as it “is near Huntingdon” and “Raystown Lake.” 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 names 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). Specific requests for publicity concerning the cave that are not covered under this policy should be approved by the MAKC Board of Directors.


Pennsylvania Cave Protection Act (1990), No 1990 -133, SB 867, Signed into law Nov. 21, 1990, prohibits removal of any type of material or species and organisms from a cave: remove, deface, tamper with or otherwise disturb any natural or cultural resources or material found within any cave; kill, injure, disturb or otherwise interfere with any cave life, including any cave roosting bat, or interfere with or obstruct the free movement of any cave life into or out of any cave, or enter any cave with the intention of killing, injuring, disturbing or interfering with life forms therein, except where public health may be threatened and willfully or knowingly break, break off, crack, carve upon, write, bum, mark upon, remove or in any manner destroy, disturb, mar or harm surfaces of any cave or any natural material which may be found therein, whether attached or broken, including speleothems, speleogens and sedimentary deposits.

For the complete text of federal and state cave laws, refer to this link.


Camping on the property shall be prohibited.

No campfires will be permitted.

Since the parking area is near a road, visitors are asked to be discreet in changing clothes and to visit a restroom facility prior to arrival at the property. There are no sanitary facilities on the property. We ask this in order to maintain good relations with our neighboring landowners. There is one designated parking area.

All trash and waste from both the surface and underground must be packed out.

ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles are not permitted on the property.

Visitors to the cave are asked to stay on designated paths, in order to minimize long-term impact to the property.

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


The owner/cave manager shall be informed of all trips to the cave, and in fact, is cc’d on all communications.

There will be a trip lock and a cave lock. The cave manager will be notified of potential trips to the cave so that arrangements can be made by the visiting group to obtain the key and so that a trip lock can be put on the cave.

The owner prefers that the cave be open from dawn to dusk only and wishes to be notified of every trip to the cave.

All cavers must be properly equipped.

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.

Eight or fewer cavers is an ideal size for this cave. More than that number should have the approval of the cave manager. One trip per day is also ideal for this cave.

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

Use of the property for any kind of commercial activity, including “cave-for-pay” caving or other recreational activities is prohibited.

No hunting or firearms will be allowed on the property other than by the owner and/or her designees.

The cave shall be closed in November and December for hunting season with the only exception being granted to the owner and/or her designees.

Exceptions to any part of the access policy or management plan must be obtained in writing from the MAKC board of directors in advance.


The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, its board of directors, the Hesston Cave management team, Dorothy Denton, 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 cave.


The MAKC promotes a policy of non-discrimination for everyone. That policy, adopted by the MAKC Board on February 16, 2019, is as follows:
The MAKC does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, granting membership, selection of project volunteers and serving on internal committees. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all board of directors, officers, agents, members, volunteers, and contributors.


The MAKC follows the National Speleological Society’s anti-harassment policy. That policy is as follows:

The National Speleological Society and the MAKC are dedicated to providing a safe and harassment-free (experience) environment for our members and attendees at our events, on social media and within our organization. We will not tolerate harassment in any form. Any attendee that violates this policy will be (told) asked to leave the event and may be subject to further disciplinary action at the discretion of the MAKC Board.

Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate comments, inappropriate sexual behavior that warrants intervention, unwanted advances and touching, invasion of personal space in a sexual manner, deliberate intimidation, and unwelcomed sexual advances. In addition, harassment includes unwanted verbal, physical, cyber, or social aggressive behavior. The action of our members and guests will be closely monitored and if an incident of harassment is reported the event staff, volunteers, or MAKC representatives will (may) take corrective action against any offenders at the time of the incident, ranging from verbal warnings to expulsion from the area and/or event and a referral of the offender to the MAKC Board for consideration of expulsion from the MAKC.

If you are being harassed or witness another person being harassed, please contact a security staff member immediately. We will be happy to assist you and provide protection for our members and attendees. We value all of our members and attendees that come to caving events and want to ensure that your safety and well-being is a top priority.


This management plan was approved by the MAKC board on February 8, 2003, suspended when the lease was suspended and then reapproved on October 17, 2020 with the new owner. 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 Dorothy Denton and thereafter will be publicized in the MAKC newsletter and/or website at the board’s discretion.

To obtain access please send an e-mail to hesstoncave@karst.org requesting permission and the date and time of the proposed trip. Multiple dates are also excepted if there is a conflict. Please provide the number of participants in the requests and the grotto involved.