Scientist writes book documenting W.Va. caves

December 07, 1998

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - In the first collection of its kind, a local hydrologist has published a book on West Virginia caves, bringing together the latest information on the number of caves in the state and their characteristics.

Parts of Bill Jones' book is highly technical, dealing with rock formations and water flow patterns in caves.

But it also offers an interesting array of photographs of caves across the state, from giant underground formations in Greenbrier County in the southern part of the state to ones that dot the farmland in the Eastern Panhandle.

Jones has been around the world studying caves, and he said West Virginia's formations are just as intriguing as any he has seen.


"I haven't moved anywhere else yet," said Jones, who runs a consulting business out of his Charles Town home and teaches hydrology part-time at American University in Washington, D.C.

The discovery of caves in the state has steadily increased over the years. In 1949, 385 caves were documented in the state and in 1995, the number grew to 1,379, according to Jones' book, "Karst Hydrology Atlas of West Virginia."

At last count, there were 24 caves in Jefferson County and 39 in Berkeley County, according to the book.

Jones said it is important to know where caves exist in the state so highway planners and others can avoid them in building projects. Besides containing water sources and rare life forms, caves are popular among outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy exploring them.

Jones talked about the book at the entrance of Moler's Cave, one of the most interesting caves in Jefferson County.

The cave, located on private property near Moler's Cross Roads just east of Shepherdstown, opens in a low wooded area in a field. The slender, horizontal slit in the Earth leads about a half mile into a sloping hill.

The cave contains at least two endangered species of arthropods, which are invertebrates with segmented bodies, said Richard Latterell, a former Shepherd College teacher who owns the property.

"Caves have always excited man's imagination and curiosity," Jones wrote in the book. At least 26 caves were mined for saltpeter to make gunpowder, and several caves contain relics from saltpeter mining operations during the Civil War and the War of 1812, the book said.

Jones' book describes "tracing" tests that have been conducted in the state to determine where water in caves flow. Dye is injected into water in the caves, then springs are checked in the area to see where the colored water appears, Jones said.

Experts have learned that it takes much longer for water to travel through underground systems in the Eastern Panhandle, Jones said. It might take several months for water to travel a mile or two underground here, while in the southern part of the state, water can travel up to 17 miles in a month, Jones said.

"The thing around here is the flow is more fractured and diffused," Jones said.

Jones recently traveled to France and Hungary for a conference about caves located under major cities in Europe.

"The thing I got from it is almost any cave around a city is environmentally degraded," Jones said.

Jones' book mentions a cave under a portion of Charles Town that operated as a tourist attraction in the 1930s. City officials considered reopening the cave along Liberty Street as a tourist attraction, but the proposal hit a snag when it was discovered there were traces of petroleum and bacteria in a lake in the cave.

Jones said the contamination could have come from anywhere, including under ground heating oil tanks that were used to fuel furnaces in nearby homes.

"I don't know how you would find that out. Talk about a needle in a haystack," Jones said.

The Herald-Mail Articles