Augusta County caves protected as Virginia's 64th natural area preserve

Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 7:05 PM EDT
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Caves underlying 88 acres along the South River in Augusta County have been protected through a new partnership.

The Cave Conservancy of the Virginias, trustees of the DuPont Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Fund, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and supportive landowners came together to conserve habitat for some of Virginia’s rarest animals, including the threatened Madison Cave isopod.

In an announcement by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the 88 acres will now be known as the Cave Hill Natural Area Preserve. According to the agency,this is the 64th preserve in the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System and the first to be established since 2016.

An additional 29 acres adjoining the South River also are permanently protected as part of the project near the town of Grottoes.

“Especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand the well-documented links between biological diversity and human health," Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said. “The science is clear that protecting other species helps protect ours, and the addition of this new natural area preserve is just one of many efforts Virginia is taking to conserve species habitat.”

The Cave Conservancy of the Virginias negotiated the purchase with the land's former owners, the Steger family, and will own and manage the preserve.

The DuPont settlement, a fund for restoration projects in the South River watershed, provided funding for the acquisition.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this project to protect important cave resources, which are extremely worthy of being included in the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System,” DCR Director Clyde E. Cristman said. “We look forward to putting in place a long-term management plan that will benefit the caves, rare species and water quality of the South River.”

While Cave Hill Natural Area Preserve itself will not offer public access facilities, adjacent property owned and acquired by CCV as part of this project will feature opportunities for public fishing, boating and walking along the South River.

According to the DRC, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are trustees of the DuPont settlement funds.

“While caves are a hidden part of our world, they are well known for their unique beauty, the history they hold and the important roles they play in the natural world,” said USFWS Regional Director Wendi Weber. “The fragile and special nature of caves makes them critical for conservation. We're pleased to support the protection of Cave Hill, which will help ensure many species continue to call the area home, from the wood thrush to the threatened Madison Cave isopod.”

The preserve includes Madisons Saltpetre Cave which is where a cave biologist discovered the Madison Cave isopod which is an eyeless freshwater crustacean. According to the DRC, other rare animals that inhabit the preserve include two cave pseudoscorpions, a cave spider and the state-threatened Madison Cave amphipod.