Hesston Cave Management Plan (lease presently expired)

Hesston Cave Preserve

Approved February 8, 2003 and suspended following the passing of Dan Denton.


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 owner 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 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.


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 tend 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 shall use this opportunity to start its own bat study program.


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 preserve. 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 preserve management team to oversee the property. The board shall determine the size of this team 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 Hesston Cave Preserve. Additionally, the owner, Dan Denton, will, at his request, be part of the management team. To contact the preserve 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/cave preserve 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: https://karst.org/index.php?section=108.


Camping on the preserve shall be prohibited. Exceptions may be made for specific requests pre-approved by the board and the owner. 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 preserve. There are no sanitary facilities on the property. We ask this in order to maintain good relations with our neighboring landowners. All trash and waste from both the surface and underground must be packed out. There is one designated parking area. ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles are not permitted on the preserve. Visitors to the preserve are asked to stay on designated paths, soon to be delineated, in order to minimize long-term impact to the property. The best place to cross the stream will be determined as part of our initial management work. Do not collect or damage flora or fauna found on the surface. The collection of rocks, minerals and fossils is also prohibited.


The initial management plan will encompass the first two years of the Hesston Cave lease. This initial two-year plan could be expanded beyond the first two years if any new cave(s) are found on the preserve and additional time is needed for mapping and management planning. During this initial phase all trips to the preserve shall be for either: Management Purposes, Scientific Research, or Mapping/Digging. Also, during this time period, all trips shall be limited to those holding membership within the MAKC. The only exception to the membership rule would be someone granted special written permission by the MAKC Board of Directors for a specific reason.

During the first two years, the MAKC proposes to accomplish the following: Re-map the existing caves located on the Hesston Cave Preserve. (Hesston Cave #1 and #2). This part of the project would also include digging to expand the known caves. Along with the re-mapping, the MAKC agrees to photo document both Hesston Caves #1 and #2 and also do a cave inventory.

The MAKC agrees to map all karst features (springs, sink holes, outcroppings, etc.) located on Mr. Denton’s property and tie these features into the known caves and postulate the location of possible other caves. Using the findings of the mapping projects, the MAKC will help Mr. Denton delineate the boundaries for the Hesston Cave Preserve and blaze and mark them accordingly.During this two-year time frame the Preserve Managers shall work with the Board of Directors to set up visitation rules that would allow those outside the MAKC to visit the preserve. During this two-year time frame, if any new cave(s) are found on the owner’s property, the initial management plan and time frame shall be expanded to allow for the proper management of the new finds, with specific direction to be decided by the owner, Dan Denton.


The initial rules for the 2-year project are fairly basic:

The owner/cave preserve manager shall be informed of all trips to the preserve. This needs to be done so that the master cave lock can be switched to the trip lock on the day of the trip. The master lock will only have two keys. One key shall be in the possession of the owner, the other in the possession of the cave manager. Each board member shall have a key to the trip lock. Those making a trip to the preserve will have to obtain a key from a board member. This procedure does two things: a) if the trip key gets copied it’s really of no use to anyone because those keys won’t work on the cave’s master lock. (The trip lock will be changed back to the master lock the same day of the trip.) The fact that the owner and the manager have a copy of the master lock key makes it almost impossible for that key to be duplicated without the knowledge of the board of directors. b) This also allows the board and management team to make sure that all trips during the first two years of the plan are scheduled as work trips.

The owner would prefer no night caving. With this said, he also realizes that many working on this project have to travel some distance, and that some night trips will be necessary. All night trips must be pre-approved by the board of directors and/or management committee.

Park only in the designated paring area.

Only use designated trails on the property.

Be discreet when changing in and out of cave clothes.

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.

Small groups are encouraged. Visiting groups larger than 8 must get advance, written permission from the MAKC board.

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 or other recreational activities is prohibited.

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 other than by the owner and/or his designees.

The Preserve shall be closed during the Pennsylvania hunting season with the only exception being granted to the owner and/or his 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.


Access information signs shall be placed where appropriate. General property maintenance will be scheduled as well as clean-up trips to the cave as needed.The ridge in which Hesston Cave is located is a long exposure of Devonian and Silurian aged carbonates. This ridgeline is the same broken ridge that starts beyond our Hall Cave Preserve and does not end till far beyond the town of Entriken. This entire ridge is pockmarked with sinkholes and other known caves. It also has a number of old abandoned quarries and many limestone outcroppings. This area is cave-rich and should produce many more caves if checked out thoroughly. There is a large area of this ridge that lies between the above-mentioned caves and both Mr. Denton and local cavers know many of the property owners and are willing to work with us on setting up other preserves in this area. With a little work, our Hall and Hesston Cave Preserves could become only two on a long list of preserves on this ridge.


The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, its board of directors, the Hesston Cave Preserve management team, Dan 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 preserve.


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. 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 Dan Denton and thereafter will be publicized in the MAKC newsletter and/or website at the board’s discretion.