WV Division of Environmental Protection
105 Railroad Street
Philippi, West Virginia 26416
It has come to our attention (via the September 28, 2000 issue of The Pendleton Times) that Greer Lime Company in Germany Valley has filed for a permit renewal and expansion of its operation to the east.
The Greer Lime quarry is located directly west of Hellhole, one of the most significant caves within the State of West Virginia. The same calcium-pure beds that made the limestone a commercial product have also produced some of the largest cave passages and rooms in West Virginia and one of the most impressive cave systems in the world.
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources instigated a West Virginia Significant Cave List in 1983. The West Virginia Speleological Survey has maintained this list since then, and of the eleven possible categories, Hellhole is listed for six: Biological, Depth, Aesthetic, Geological, Length, and Recreational.
- Biological: The cave is one of the largest hibernation sites for the Virginia Big-Eared Bat (Plecotus townsendii virginianus) in the world. There are presently 9000 Big-Ears in the cave, with a total population of about 20,000 in the world. Thus, Hellhole contains about 45% of the world's total population. The Virginia Big-Eared Bat is a federally endangered species. The cave is also the largest hibernation site in the Mid-Atlantic region for the Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis). The cave contains approximately 9000 of these bats; no other cave within the region comes close to the same population. The Indiana Bat is a federally endangered species. The cave is one of the largest hibernation sites for the Little-Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) in the world. It contains an estimated 100,000 bats; only a couple of sites in the world are larger. The cave is also home to a scattering of other bat species. The cave contains two rare cave invertebrates, both of which are millipedes. One is the Germany Valley Cave Millipede and the other Luray Caverns Blind Cave Millipede.
- Depth: Hellhole is 417 feet deep and is one of the deepest caves in the state.
- Aesthetic: Hellhole contains many areas of beautiful and unique cave formations.
- Geological: Hellhole is located very close to the axis of the Wills Mountain Anticline, which is the dominant geological structure in Western Pendleton County. As such, the cave is at the location where the oldest limestones have been lifted the highest in elevation, and it is at a location where these limestones and the surrounding structure can be easily inspected. Hellhole is the key to understanding the complex karst hydrology of Germany Valley. In addition, Hellhole is the longest and most complex cave in West Virginia developed in Ordovician strata.
- Length: Hellhole is 8.50 miles long. It is the longest cave in Pendleton County, the longest cave in West Virginia not developed in limestones of the Greenbrier Group, the longest cave system north of Greenbrier County. Hellhole is incompletely explored and mapped and could contain many more miles of passage.
- Recreational: Hellhole, before it was closed, was easily one of the most popular caves in the east. It was the premier vertical experience for many cavers, and people came from all over the world to visit it. It is one of the caves where the National Speleological Society learned their first vertical caving techniques, and it has a very long history of speleological study and exploration. It is a truly phenomenal cave, from a caver's point of view.
The bottom line is that Hellhole is one of the most significant and biologically important caves in the Eastern United States. It should be protected at all costs, and quarrying operations should not intersect it.
In short, we feel that additional work is required before the permit can be issued. In particular, because the quarry wants to expand to the east, it is of premier importance that the cave be explored and mapped before the quarry is allowed to expand toward it. In addition, the hydrological picture in the valley is incompletely understood, and a study should be completed to properly determine this picture.
To reiterate, Hellhole should be completely surveyed before the quarry is allowed to expand toward this very significant cave. The West Virginia Speleological Survey is not opposed to Greer Limestone mining within the valley but we would like to see safeguards in place to protect the cave and the federally endangered bats that it contains.
William M. Balfour, P.G., Director