Sarah Furnace Cave Management Plan

The Management Plan for this preserve was adopted by the MAKC Board on November 16, 2019. After reading this plan carefully, cavers interested in visiting the preserve should fill  out the free permit available at this link.


The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC), a non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania completed the purchase of 20 acres surrounding and containing Sarah Furnace Cave, Clarion County, Pa. in July of 2019. This management plan was developed as part of this purchase plan.


Paul Damon, Sr., in “Historical Notes on the Caves of Southwestern Pennsylvania,” noted that Sarah Furnace Cave “was actually a cave-mine. Sarah Furnace was one of the later iron furnaces west of the Allegheny Mountains and the cave was interlaced with ore, limestone and coal, making all three ingredients of iron present in one cave environment. Cave passages and mine passages are intertwined.” (The Loyalhanna Troglodyte, Special 1995 Bonus Issue, pages 1-4.)

Tom Metzgar writes that “this mining activity occurred about the middle of the 1800s. A Guide to the Old Stone Blast Furnaces in Western Pennsylvania, by M.B. Sharp and W.H. Thomas (Pittsburgh: Historical Society of Western Pa., 1966) states that Sarah Furnace operated from 1860 to 1867. Nearby Catfish Furnace was in blast from 1846 to about 1856. Sarah Furnace was the last blast furnace built in Clarion County, PA. Samual and Sarah Plumer paid John W. Kahle to build this iron furnace after the open-hearth stone blast furnace technology was obsolete. The Plumers undertook high-risk business investments. They experimented with using coke instead of charcoal at Sarah Furnace. Sam Plumer died in 1861, but his coke-fueled furnace operated until 1867. (Theophilus L. Wilson, “The Iron Industry in Clarion County,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine vol. 20 pp. 15-30 (Pittsburgh: Western Pennsylvania Historical Society) (Mar. 1937).

“Regardless of the age of the ore mines, Sarah Furnace Cave also exhibits the effects of the 20th century strip mining of the closely overlying Kittanning Coal. (“Sarah Furnace Cave, March 29, 1987,” The Netherworld News, March-April 1987, Number 2, pages 13-15.)

An account of exploration of the cave was reported in 1894 in the East Brady Review, and additional history work will be compiled.

The cave has also been called Porter’s Cave, although the Porter Brothers who conducted coal mining on the parcel never actually owned the property or resided there. Samuel Franklin Plumer (1807-1861) named Sarah Furnace in honor of his wife, Sarah (Power) Plumer (1821-1894), daughter of George Power (1760-1815) and Margaret Bowman Power (1780-1843). Sarah Furnace is one of the few places in Pennsylvania named for a woman.


This trip report by Robert Frank provides a good basic description of the cave:

“It is located on a small bench about 50 yards below an abandoned strip mine and is in the Vanport limestone. … The main opening is in the sandstone above the limestone layer, which is from 10 to 15 feet thick in this area. The opening is about 4 feet high and 5 feet wide. About 10 feet inside there is a pool of water about 8 inches deep and 10 feet long. At one time iron ore, in the form of siderite or iron carbonate, locally referred to as Buhrstone ore, was mined from the cave for the furnace nearby.

“After crossing the water there is a crawlway going straight in and an expanded passage going off to the right, part of the former mined area.

“In this passage are sandstone walls which were probably built by the miners as a way to remove unwanted stone. After going about 40 feet in this passage we took a crawlway to the left that ran about 75 feet and joined another mined out passage. It appears that the mined areas follow the original cave passages. “There are a few wooden mine props still standing.

“As there are cross passages about every 8 feet and it was impossible to check them all in the amount of time we had, it was decided to stay in the larger ones. … We found that some of the cave to the side of the mountain had surface roots growing through their roofs. But no openings.” (“Trip Report: April 30, 1983,” The Quarterly Journal of the Jefferson County Cave Survey, Volume 1, Number 2, Summer 1983, Pages 30-32.)

Place names include the Bat Room, the Porcupine Room, the Orange Room, the Black and White Flowstone Room and the Dragon Helictite. (NWPCS Journal, Volume 2, Number 2, April 1985, Page 30.)

On a scientific study trip, “slight air flow was noticeable and the temperature was 48 F.” (NWPCS Journal, Volume 1, Number 2, March 1984, Pages 47-48.)

In 1983 the Northwestern Pennsylvania Cave Survey talked to a man working on a drilling rig near the cave entrance. Robert Frank wrote that “the driller informed us that they were cleaning an old well that had been drilled some time ago. He said they had dropped through a large cavern about 9 feet high at 97 feet below the surface and encountered a strong air flow. He told us that by using mirrors they were able to look down the drill hole and see a fairly large room.” (“Trip Report —September 12, 1983, NWPCS Journal, Volume 1, Number 1, January 1984, page 6.”)

Efforts were then made to find the drill hole from inside the cave. … [It was never found.}

“Going west along this final passage we crawled over a pile of mine debris into a small room. This room was bright orange in color with flowstone cascading down one wall into a series of rimstone dams and leading to a pool of water. All were bright orange as was the mud at the bottom of the water pool. The walls were speckled with orange starbursts of the mineral too. The color is most likely from FE (OH)3 a product of acid mine drainage.”

(“Trip Report: September 13, 1983,” NWPCS Journal, Volume 1, Number 1, January, 1984, Page 7.)


The Northwestern Pennsylvania Cave Survey began a survey of May 16, 1983, noting that “on a preliminary exploration trip the month before I was greatly impressed by the cave. First the cave is easily two miles in length, and will probably be the longest cave in Pennsylvania when the survey is complete.” (“Trip Report: May 16, 1983,” The Quarterly Journal of the Jefferson County Cave Survey, Summer 1983, Volume 1, Number 2, Pages 33-34.)

Phil Fawley and Ken Long mapped Harlansburg Cave to 21,802 feet, but only mapped the south side of the road, not the north side passages. (“Harlansburg Cave: The Longest Cave in Pennsylvania,” Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 1997, pages 106-111). In a table (“Caves of the Vanport Limestone,” NWPCS Journal, Volume 1, Number 6, October-December 1984, pages 141-143.), it was noted that Sarah Furnace is the fourth longest cave in the Vanport limestone, following Harlansburg, Hindman (5,000) and Brady’s Bend (4,173). The NWPCS survey put the cave at 2,790 feet (December 1984).

The MAKC, led by cartographers Bert Ashbrook and Chris Hill began a mapping project in March of 2019, prior to the closing, with permission of the previous owner. In October of 2019, after regular trips, a mile of survey was reported, making the cave among the top 12 in Pennsylvania. Much more unsurveyed passage exists.


“Most of the significant caves in northwestern Pennsylvania are developed in the Vanport Limestone. The Vanport is a gray, fossiliferous, marine limestone ranging from 0 to 25 feet thick in the northwestern Pennsylvania area. Information regarding these caves has been published sporadically in widely scattered publications. (“Caves of the Vanport Limestone,” NWPCS Journal, Volume 1, Number 6, October-December 1984, pages 141-143.)

William B. White and James R. Fisher described the cave’s geology thus: “The main trend of the passages is north-east south-west and very nearly parallels the strike. Passages are similar to other Vanport caves in that they are from 2 to 5 feet wide and from 2 to 6 feet high. The cave is of special interest in that iron ore, locally called buhrstone ore, was mined from the cave in colonial times…. The principal portion of the true cave consists of a network of passages being 7 or 8 feet. The extent of this cave is still unknown and it is possible to crawl for several hours without crossing one’s path. There are three distinct sections of cave which may or may not be separated by mine. The fill consists of hard packed clay which in some places becomes mud…..” (“Cavern Development in the Vanport Limestone,” The Netherworld News, February, 1958, Volume 6, Number 2, Pages 32-39.) (Porter’s Cave (Sarah Furnace) MAR Bulletin 5, Pittsburgh Grotto files); (Come Crawl Into the Caves of Western Pennsylvania, Netherworld News, August 1969, Volume 17, Number 4, Pages 161-162, 163).


A “Preliminary Faunal List, Sarah Furnace (Porter’s) Cave, Clarion County, Pa.” was published on May 10, 1984.

“Abstract: Casual observations in Sarah Furnace Cave, Clarion County, Pennsylvania have shown that the cave is frequented by porcupines, raccoons, little Brown Bats, and Eastern Pipistrelle Bats. Invertebrates observed include spiders, harvestmen, pseudoscorpions, millipedes, springtails, flies, gnats, mosquitoes, moths, and beetle larva.

Introduction: The purpose of this paper is to provide a listing of animals or animal signs observed during the past year by members of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Cave Survey. As of May 1984 that group had been exploring, mapping, and studying Sarah Furnace (Porter’s) Cave, Clarion County, Pennsylvania, for approximately one year.”

One major ongoing study by Robert H. Frank examined the usage of the cave by bats during the winter.

Frank noted that “there is no active stream in the cave. This greatly restricts food influx into and through the cave’s ecosystem. Major food sources that are present include: scat left by mammals visiting the cave; debris washed into the cave through openings to the surface; and tree roots reaching shallow portions of the cave from the surface.

“Many animals found in the cave are not dependent on these in the cave food sources. These animals include: Those that only occasionally visit the cave such as raccoons; those which leave the cave to food such as crickets; and those which only use the cave part of the year such as hibernating bats in the winter.”

Frank noted the presence of Porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum); Raccoons (Procyon lotor); Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus); Eastern Pipistrelle Bats (Pipistrellus subflavus).

Birds, Reptiles, and Amphibians: Arthropods: Spiders (order Araneae); Harvestmen (order Phalangida); Pseudoscorpions (order Pseudoscorpionida); Millipedes (order Diplopeda); Beetles (order Coleoptera); Springtails (order Collembola); Crickets (Ceuthophilus stygius) Flies (order Diptera); Mosquitoes (order Diptera); Moths (order Lepidoptera).

MAKC monitoring in the entrance area of the cave since the acquisition shows a variety of fauna there, including deer (Cervidae); black bear (Ursus americanus); Porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum); Raccoons (Procyon lotor); fisher (artes pennant); red fox (Vulpes Vulpes); coyote (Canis latrans); turkey vulture (Cathartes aura); eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis); and groundhog (Marmota monax). Only evidence of porcupines and raccoons (scatologica evidence) exists further than the twilight zone or surface entrance area at this time.

The MAKC will continue work to document all cave fauna.


In 2007, a disease nicknamed white-nose syndrome, caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd occurred in Albany, New York, and quickly spread through the northeastern United States. “Pd grows in cold, dark and damp places. It attacks the bare skin of bats while they’re hibernating in a relatively inactive state. As it grows, Pd causes changes in bats that make them become active more than usual and burn up fat they need to survive the winter. Bats with white-nose syndrome may do strange things like fly outside in the daytime in the winter,” according to the website

This disease eventually occurred in Sarah Furnace Cave, although the cave was closed to visitation by a previous landowner.

Prior to 2007, the Pennsylvania Game Commission documented the presence of a number of bat species in the cave, supporting earlier observations. Those species, noted on the website (accessed October 14, 2018) were documented in Sarah Furnace Cave: Perimyotis subflavus and Myotis lucifugus.

The MAKC will continue to study the cave in order to document the return of any bats in the cave. But due to our mission of the study, exploration and conservation of caves and karst resources, the MAKC also has a responsibility to our membership. Thus, on November 16, 2019, the date of adoption of this management plan, the MAKC Board of Directors also adopted the National Speleological Society White Nose Syndrome Policy for the Barbara Schomer Preserve as well as all of its managed, leased and owned preserves. The Policy was approved by the NSS Board of Governors on April 17, 2010. In part the policy reads:

“The NSS recognizes the serious nature of white-nose syndrome (WNS) and its devastating effect on bat populations in the eastern United States. The Society is committed to advancing scientific knowledge of WNS, helping to determine its cause, and limiting its impact on cave organisms. At the same time, the NSS will promote responsible study, management, and access to cave resources based on demonstrated risks and the latest available data. The NSS has a responsibility to its current members and cavers of tomorrow to do what it can to ensure that any restrictions on cave access are based on demonstrated threats, sound evidence, and recognition that risks are site- and strategy-specific.”

The entire policy is at this weblink.


The presence of mining relics have been observed in the cave as dating from the mid-19th century. Disc-shaped fossils of crinoids partially embedded in the walls of the passageways, and the backbone of a vertebrate were among the fossils described in the cave by J. Hummer on a trip report. (NWPCS Journal, Volume 2, Number 2, April 1985, Page 30.) Further studies are needed in this area.


William B. White reported anthodites, gypsum formations, and aragonite (“Wampum Mine & Porters Cave. April 5, 1958,” The Netherworld News, April, 1958, Volume 6, Number 4, Pages 86-87.)

“One large stalagmite was jet black in color and topped by pure white flowstone, like syrup on an ice cream sundae. Small stalactites, helictites and anthodites were present in the cave as well.” (“Trip Report: May 16, 1983,” The Quarterly Journal of the Jefferson County Cave Survey, Summer 1983, Volume 1, Number 2, Pages 33-34.)


The MAKC encourages research to explore the preserve’s historical, biological, geological, mineralogical, 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 of directors for consideration. Any research project that involves removal of cave soils, digging, mineralogical, or biological sampling must first receive the approval of the MAKC.

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. The owners reserve the right to comment upon published papers which might reveal sensitive information, and specifically prohibit publishing reports on the internet without their approval. Any reference to the cave’s location must be approved by the MAKC prior to publication (see publication policy below).


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 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. Persons unfamiliar with cave exploration should contact the conservancy, where they can be put in touch with local caving clubs, called grottos, in order to learn about caving in a controlled manner with proper equipment and leaders. Grottos do not charge fees for exploration.

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).

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.


On March 22, 1969, Bruce Kirchner and John Hempel visited the cave. Hempel noted the discovery of Peter’s Disappointment Cave/Mine. An attempt should be made to relocate this feature.


  • The MAKC has had the property surveyed and the corners marked. Once logging is completed, prior to mine reclamation work, the property lines will also be marked.
  • Very little will be done on the surface prior to the abandoned mine reclamation work that will be conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
  • The MAKC will refrain from making any surface improvements in the property until after the land has been reclaimed and graded. After which the board is expected to consider a parking area, an informational kiosk or small signage and trail building from the parking area to the cave entrance.
  • At present no camping is permitted without special permission of the MAKC Board and the preserve manager. Special permission may be given, upon request, for project caving, such as mapping. At present due to the coal refuse and timbering, no campfires are permitted anywhere on the property.
  • Cave visitors are permitted to drive onto the coal refuse pile near the cave, if they have the appropriate vehicle, in order to have more privacy while changing clothes. However, no ATVs or dirt bikes are permitted on the preserve. Once the reclamation is completed, MAKC will have an official parking area.
  • There are no sanitary facilities on the property.
  • All trash and waste from both the surface and underground must be packed out. Collection of flora and fauna, rocks, minerals, fossils and soils is prohibited without a permit.
  • Illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, alcohol and alcoholic beverage containers are not allowed on the property.
  • MAKC will encourage some surface survey work to determine how the cave lies in relation to various surface features.
  • The developer will create a boat dock / beach area along the Allegheny River which lot purchasers will be able to use for recreation.
  • The Allegheny Valley Land Trust will extend their Rails to Trails project through the MAKC property along the Allegheny River.


  • All cave visitors must be properly equipped: hardhat, three sources of light, extra batteries, gloves, boots, and extra batteries. At least once light source should be helmet-mounted.
  • To encourage safe caving, a free permit system has been established. Visitors should email the preserve manager 30 days in advance of a planned trip, providing answers to the questions on the permit. As MAKC transitions into ownership, and evaluates the cave, the management plan will be adjusted appropriately.
  • Caving clubs which are affiliated with the National Speleological Society (NSS) DO NOT have to fill out the group permit application, but should notify the cave manager by e-mail of their proposed trip date.
  • Trip leaders should perform a head count of anyone entering the cave, and again when exiting.
  • There is absolutely NO COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY permitted. Anyone charging a fee to visit the cave should be reported to the preserve manager and risks being forbidden to visit the preserve.
  • The cave will be open from dawn to dusk. Access at any other times will be permitted only with prior approval of the cave manager and the board and will only be permitted for studies or mapping.
  • ALL cave visitors must check in with the preserve manager prior to entering the cave and check out once they exit. Sarah Furnace Cave is an extensive maze cave and visitors who are unfamiliar with its passages run the potential of getting lost. MAKC’s immediate priority is making a map of the cave in order to prevent this from happening. So initial access and trips will focus on cartography.
  • While it may seem logical to mark the passages in an effort to prevent getting lost, cave visitors should refer to the Pennsylvania Cave Protection act and note that it is illegal to spray paint or damage the cave walls and formations. A link to the law is provided on our website and the law is described further on in this management plan.
  • If cave visitors desire to distribute markers to assist them in exploration, they should be temporarily placed only during the trip and removed on the way out of the cave.
  • MAKC will also encourage recreational trips to the cave, especially those trips with a focus on litter/graffiti cleanup. Previous visitors have spray-painted arrows and, at one time, placed string or fishing line in the cave to help negotiate the passages. Neither method is acceptable by current caving standards and efforts should be made to rid the cave of graffiti that is not historic, i.e., arrows, profanities, as well as trash.
  • If you pack it in, pack it out.
  • Anyone marking the cave, other than survey stations, or removing anything but litter and their own possessions from the cave will be subject to prosecution.
  • Visitors should follow the credo of the National Speleological Society: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”
  • A register was placed in the cave by members of the Loyalhanna Grotto in 1992. This should be replaced and maintained.


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.


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.


The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, its board of directors, the Barbara Schomer Preserve/Sarah Furnace Cave management team, 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.


This management plan was approved by the MAKC board on November 16, 2019. The MAKC board reserves the right to update, adjust, alter or amend this plan at any time without notice.

nd the owners delete and thereafter will be publicized in the MAKC newsletter and/or website at the board’s discretion.