Penn Aqua Management Plan



The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy (MAKC), a non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania purchased two acres of property containing the entrance to Penn Aqua Cave in Decatur Township, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in the fall of 2020.


The entrance to Penn Aqua Cave is a spring mouth at the end of a limestone ridge at the level of the floodplain. The cave was discovered by Nevin W. Davis and family in 1960. Originally only 120 feet of water-filled passage was explored to a sump. Diving through this sump in 1963 led to the presently-known cave consisting of 4,400 feet of passage. A 1960 location map by Bernard Smeltzer shows “Stinninger Cave (closed)” at this approximate location. Cavers planning to explore the cave should be prepared for long periods of immersion in nine degrees Celsius water temperature.


The cave is developed along the strike of the Devonian Helderberg Limestone. It can be followed along the axle of the ridge for 3,200 feet in a straight line before being terminated by an impenetrable sump. The cave entrance area is a breakdown room and a crawl held together by tree roots and dirt. Beyond this is solid cave with up to 12 feet of water and six inches of air space in some places. A sump 120 feet from the entrance was made more passable by blasting. Beyond the sump is a room 40 by 40 feet with hints of larger passage beyond.

The passage from this room is nearly blocked with large breakdown blocks. Beyond this is about 270 feet of sand and block-floored walking-height stream passage terminated by another sump. This sump has in times of low water a minimum of six inches of air space and water depth in excess of six feet. The sump can be traversed easily by floating through Gastropod Gallery, the largest room in the cave, which is beyond this second sump.

Gastropod Gallery is about 30 to 40 feet above the stream and is 50 feet wide, 230 feet long, and 25 feet high. If the breakdown pile on the north side of the room were removed, this room would be extended to 380 feet long and would be one of the largest cave rooms in the state. This room was named for the fossilized coiled cephiopod found in one of the breakdown blocks in the room.

At stream level the passage continues 1,500 feet as a sand-floored channel averaging four feet high and 20 feet wide with the stream meandering from one side to the other. Some interesting features occur along this passage. One is a high gallery, the Mezzanine, which is a high-level room smaller than Gastropod Gallery. Another is a narrow slot climbable to a point about 90 feet above the stream.

Beyond the stream passage are two more rooms and a passage called the Fun Passage. This is a 330-foot long, 15-foot wide splashway. The water is up to three feet deep with a minimum of one foot of airspace.

At the end of the Fun Passage another stream enters the cave. This stream is very small compared with the main stream whose flow was approximately 0.5 cfs in August. The sump terminating the cave was dived by R. Rigg and J. Marsden in August 1966 and was found to be too small for human penetration.

—Nevin W. Davis


Bats, salamanders and crayfish have been observed in Penn Aqua.


Further research needs to be done.


There are several wet areas including a near sump at the entrance. Additional studies should be completed on the hydrology of the cave and of our property.


Gastropod Gallery was named for the fossilized coiled cephiopod found in one of the breakdown blocks in the room.


Additional documentation should be completed on the mineralogy of the cave.


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 Penn Aqua Cave Preserve. To contact the preserve manager e-mail:


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 Penn Aqua Cave we can note their county and proximity to other caves, such Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and to other nearby geographic features, such as it “is near Lewistown.” 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.


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

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

No camping or camp fires are permitted on the preserve. This property is a small 2 acre lot immediately surrounding the cave entrance. The terrain is steeply sloped and unfortunately there no suitable spot to camp.

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


The MAKC will mark the boundaries of the preserve and its corners within the first year of the acquisition.

The MAKC has installed a driveway so cavers do not have to park and change along the road. A gate, however, has been placed across the driveway. Trip leaders filing a permit application will be given details on opening the gate. Please contact the preserve managers at for details.


VISITATION PERMITS—All trip coordinators must use the permit system to obtain permission to visit Penn-Aqua Cave Preserve. A permit application must be submitted on the MAKC web site ( Please complete all fields on the permit request form and click the SUBMIT button. The preserve manager will typically respond directly to the trip coordinator via email. It is recommended that the permit application be submitted at least one week prior to the day of the trip. Shorter notifications may work but are not guaranteed. Same day service is unlikely. Additional communications with the MAKC Penn-Aqua management team can be made via email to

EMERGENCIES—The permit request will specify an “Emergency Contact” and a “Call Out No Later Than” time. The Emergency Contact is a responsible person that will not be entering the cave. If the Emergency Contact does not receive notification that the group has exited the cave by the Call Out No Later Than time, that person is responsible for initiating an emergency response by:

  • Calling 911.
  • Notifying the preserve managers at
  • Notifying the Eastern Region Coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission (
  • The trip coordinator is requested to inform all participants of the contents of this document and to enforce these rules during the visit to the preserve.

GATE—The driveway is normally gated to prevent unauthorized traffic. When a permit application is approved the combination to the padlock on the gate will be provided to the trip coordinator. Please do not share this combination with others. There is enough room for one vehicle to pull off the public road to unlock the gate. If there is a convoy of vehicles, please do not block the public road while waiting for the gate to be unlocked. You can continue to drive a short way past the cave and turn around at the next intersection on the right. The trip coordinator is responsible for securing the pad lock and for locking the gate when the group departs.

Do not, under any circumstances, park on the side of the public road. Also avoid backing out onto the road as you depart. Please turn around on the preserve and pull out facing forward.

Please do not change clothes in clear view of the public road. Use the trees / bushes / vehicles / Kiosk to provide some privacy. There is a lot of horse and buggy traffic on the public road and modesty is important. Please be discrete.

Please do not trespass onto neighboring properties during your visit. We currently enjoy good relations with our neighbors and very much want to continue those relations. There is a foot trail from the parking area to the cave. Please limit your travel to the parking area and established trails.

Gatherings larger than the members of the immediate cave trip are not permitted without specific permission from MAKC. Activities on the preserve should be limited to: arrival, parking, preparation for the cave trip, a short hike (~ 200 yds) to and from the cave, changing back into street clothes, and departure.

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.

This cave should not be considered a beginners cave due to the added risk that the water presents. Depending on the water level there are at least two spots where a quick duck under may be required. Although it is not a particularly difficult cave it is also not a good first or second cave. It is recommended that there be at least one experienced caver for every six persons on the trip.

Generally, only one cave trip per day will be approved. The preserve manager may make exceptions when caving events are being held in the area.

Group size limitations are a minimum of four cavers and a maximum of fifteen cavers. More than that number must have the approval of the preserve manager. It is highly recommended that each trip have at least one person on it that has been through the cave at least one time in the past.

All cavers must be properly equipped. Wetsuits, helmets and multiple water proof lights are required. Cavers planning to explore the cave should be prepared for long periods of immersion in nine degrees Celsius (48 degree F) water.

Any participants under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian on the trip.

Each trip coordinator is requested to notify the MAKC property manager when the entire group has safely exited the cave, or if any problems have arisen either in the cave or on the preserve property. The email can be used for the notification or cell phone numbers can be exchanged when the permit application is approved.

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

All groups are encouraged to submit trip reports to MAKC via email at Some trip reports may be used in the conservancy’s newsletter.


The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy, its board of directors, 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 October 17, 2020. The MAKC board reserves the right to update, adjust, alter or amend this plan at any time without notice.