International scientists visit Missouri cave and springs

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Volume 37-291 For Immediate Release: Sept. 1, 2009

ROLLA, MO, — An International group of speleologists and geologists participated in a three hour lantern tour of Round Spring Cave near Eminence July 29. Almost a mile long, Round Spring Cavern is heavily decorated with speleothems (cave deposits) such as stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, soda straws and other mineral deposits.

Every four years, the International Congress of Speleology meets to discuss cave science, management and education. The Congress convened July 19-26 in Kerrville, Texas, making the United States the first country to host the Congress more than one time. The ICS was held jointly with the U.S. Speleological and National Speleological Society meetings.

"Caves are fascinating natural resources and they also play a vital role in transporting groundwater thorough the underground of Missouri," said Joe Gillman, state geologist and Division of Geology and Land Survey Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  "Speleological groups have had a major impact on protecting these resources throughout the state."

While in Texas, hundreds of attendees participated in technical programs and workshops and enjoyed cave art and maps.  Numerous excursions and day and evening field camps rounded out the activities. Following the Congress, the group began their 10-day, 2,000 mile trek. Kevin W. Stafford, PhD, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Geology, Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, along with student volunteers, shepherded the group through the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, the Green River Valley in Kentucky, and the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and West Virginia while another group toured along a western route that included caves from Texas to Los Angeles.

Prior to the Round Spring Cavern tour, the group enjoyed the beauty of nearby Round Spring and marveled at the immense volumes of water pouring from Alley Spring as they flowed toward the Jacks Fork River.  The outing also included a visit to the Alley Spring Mill, a 100 year old grist mill. Neil Elfrink, who is an environmental geologist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Division of Geology and Land Survey, led the tours.

Stafford said, "We are grateful that Neil agreed to lead our group in the Eminence area. The Missouri's Ozark region is dotted with fascinating caves and springs. The dialogue and scientific exchange that took place was invaluable for everyone." 

Round Spring Cavern, Round Spring and Alley Spring are located in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. "This region boasts the greatest concentration of large springs worldwide," said Elfrink. The Round Spring area is home to a family campground, a picnic area, a tour cave and the spring from which it takes its name. Round Spring was part of the Missouri State Park system from 1932 until 1964, when the people of Missouri donated it to the National Park Service to become one of the star attractions of the new Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

Geology was not the only topic of discussion. The visiting scientists also admired ancient bear beds and large numbers of cave and grotto salamanders that came out of the darkness to greet them. Elfrink commended Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park Ranger Bill O'Donnell and his staff for their dedication to the cave, where public tours are offered daily. In the end, fifteen speleologists and geologists from Australia, Germany, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland studied some of the most spectacular caves the United States has to offer. Their trip ended with a tour of Endless Caverns in New Market, Va. and a stay in Washington, D.C.


Editor:  Photo is available at

Cutline:  Neil Elfrink, a geologist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Division of Geology and Land Survey, discusses formations inside Round Spring Cavern during a tour he led for a group of International scientists.