Karst conference kicks off Monday in Shepherdstown

September 13, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- White nose syndrome in bats, water dowsing and sinkhole mapping are among the topics that will be presented this week at the Growing Communities on Karst Conference near Shepherdstown.

"There's always new issues to deal with," said Rebecca MacLeod, coordinator for the Potomac Headwaters Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Council.

The RC&D council, which is comprised of representatives from eight eastern West Virginia counties, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection are sponsoring the conference, which begins at 8:15 a.m. Monday with registration at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center.

MacLeod expects about 120 people to attend the conference, which is in its sixth year.

Karst is a type of topography that is formed over limestone, gypsum and other rocks by dissolution.

Prominent in eastern West Virginia, karst topography covers nearly 25 percent of the nation, and is characterized by sinkholes, caves and underground drainages, according the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).


While commercial exhibitors have declined with the economy, MacLeod said attendance remains good.

"Each year, we try to refine it a little bit more," MacLeod said. "We also try to take a pragmatic view of what's going to be usable for our audience."

Human activities, such as urbanization, agricultural practices, water exploitation and deforestation, can negatively impact karst areas, resulting in subsidence and groundwater contamination, according to the USGS.

New to this year's conference is a field tour of a karst "window," which MacLeod described as a very large sinkhole through which streams run.

"It's really a unique feature. I had no idea there was one even in this area," said MacLeod, who is assigned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist with the RC&D council's projects.

Since the first conference, MacLeod said she believes area residents, the development community and local governments have become more sensitive to groundwater protection issues.

Finding water also has become a big issue, and MacLeod anticipates that will continue in the future when development pressure returns with an upswing in the economy.

For geologists, land surveyors, landscape architects and other professionals involved in land-use and water issues, the conferences provide opportunities for continuing education credits, and MacLeod believes it is one of the most affordable events.

Among the presenters is James Madison University geologist Scott Eaton, who will discuss using geology to find water. His presentation will be followed by remarks by water dowser Lewis Matacia, who will hand out dowsing rods.

Other topics include mapping sinkholes with Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) imaging, developing sinkhole probability maps, and storm-water and land design guidance for karst terrain.

There also will be a presentation on white nose syndrome, which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said has killed hundreds of thousands of bats, according to the agency's Web site. The syndrome is named for a white fungus that appears on the muzzles and wings of affected bats, according to the agency.

For more information about the Growing Communities on Karst Conference or to register, go to

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