Caves of St. Louis County: a tale of loss

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Caves of St. Louis County: a tale of loss

Postby Evan G » Mar 12, 2007 12:09 pm

Caves of St. Louis County: a tale of loss

By: Washington University in St. Louis
Published: Mar 12, 2007 at 07:10

The Caves of St. Louis County and the Bridges of Madison County share a common theme: loss.

The former, a scholarly paper that appears as the sole entry of the journal Missouri Speleology (Vol. 45, No. 1, 2007) is a description of some of St. Louis County's 127 known caves and a warning that development over the past two centuries has eliminated or destroyed many caves in a state that could quite rightly call itself the Cave State. The latter is a tear-jerking novel, made into a movie by Clint Eastwood, about a doomed, unlikely love affair, a hallmark of the '90s with all the permanence of the Backstreet Boys.

Caves, though, are in trouble, at least in St. Louis County, Missouri, says co-author Robert Criss, Ph.D., professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

"Caves have been discarded by developers with the same impunity as trees," said Criss. "Things are developing so rapidly in St. Louis County and elsewhere that we should try a little harder to protect our natural habitat. There is no law in Missouri to protect caves on private land, and we don't seem to have any protocol as to what is acceptable. The loss of caves is not on anyone's radar screen, and I think it should be."

Caves are a feature of karst terrain, along with sinkholes, springs, and "losing" streams that disappear into "swallow holes" and resurface in other areas. Criss and his collaborators, Washington University earth and planetary sciences graduate student Jennifer Lippmann and research colleagues Everett Criss and G.R. Osburn, studied most of the 127 reported caves in St. Louis County - which excludes St. Louis city - a county of 508 square miles with a population (2000 Census) of 1,016,315, comprising nearly one-third of the St. Louis area's population of approximately 2.7 million.

Legendary caves of Missouri

Caves in this karst region are legendary, having served over time as beer storage sites, ballrooms, taverns, speakeasies and disposal sites. Farther north, outside Hannibal, who could forget Injun Joe's lingering death in the cave that was gated after Tom and Becky Thatcher became lost there?

Evan G
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Postby George H. Davis » Mar 15, 2007 3:05 pm

It's also no surprise that there have been and will continue to be problems with karst collapses in the St. Louis area. Poor planning and a lack of requiring an appropriate geologic/geotechnical investigation for subdivision development leads to things like the draining of Lake Chesterfield (built atop a sinkhole riddled terrain). I lament the loss of caves, but I also am saddened and disheartened by poorly planned development.
The importance of undertstanding the underground environment and its relations to the surface provides a better standard of living for all mankind.
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Postby Teresa » Mar 15, 2007 10:41 pm

It's part of the concept that STL and STL County have that they are not *really* part of Missouri, but their own little fiefdom, and that anything which isn't connected with a ram, a cardinal, or a blue note isn't really worth bothering about.

Since this Mo Speleo actually relates back to one done when St. Louis County arguably had rural areas in it, the study is quite interesting, since it has some longitudinal aspects. The regional maps are also quite well done-- the reader gets a concept of the geographical distribution of karst features, without revealing exact locations.

People interested in ordering the report can go to, and look up contact info for the Missouri Speleology circulation manager.
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