Shawnee Karst Preserve Management Plan

Lawrence County, Indiana

(As approved 17 March, 2012)

INTRODUCTION: The Indiana Karst Conservancy, Inc. has purchased the 50-acre Shawnee Karst Preserve. The Conservancy will manage the cave on the Shawnee Karst Preserve for recreational access and scientific study by responsible and experienced cavers while at the same time protecting its resources for future generations. The surface property will be managed to maintain/enhance the karst values, sub-surface water quality, and the overall natural setting.

Shawnee Karst Preserve has been enrolled in the Classified Forest and Wildlands program with the oversight of an Indiana District Forester. Surface management practices on the preserve will comply with the requirements of the forest plan in addition to the contents of this document.

HISTORY OF THE CAVE: The Shawnee Cave system was likely visited by Native Americans. The system is of worldwide biological significance and the Donaldson entrance in particular is famous for the multiple cavefish and other studies conducted at the "IU cave farm" around the turn of the 20th century (e.g.: Eigenmann, 1894). The main (downstream) entrance to the Upper Twin portion of the system is also the type locality for the term "karst window" (von Osinski, 1935). A dam and boat dock were constructed in this karst window by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, impounding approximately 600 feet of cave passage to facilitate commercial use. DNR concessionaires continue to lead flatboat tours into this section of the cave from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. Views of troglobitic cavefish and crayfish are highlights of the tour.

The first known map of the cave was published in conjunction with a systemic study of cave plankton (Scott, 1909)1. This map – showing 4,674 feet of passage in Upper Twin – served as the best source of survey information for more than 80 years. The author speculated that the water in the system originated at the sinks of Mosquito Creek, and attempted to confirm this by placing 500 small blocks of wood coated with paraffin at the sinks to see if some would turn up in the cave. Although this attempt was unsuccessful, his speculation was later proven to be correct using modern dye-tracing techniques.

The Scott map was later reproduced – with modifications – in "Caves of Indiana," Circular No. 8 of the Indiana Geological Survey (Powell, 1961).

Re-survey activities of the Shawnee system occurred from 1989 to 1991 under an MOU between the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Karst Conservancy (Collins, 1993). This survey revealed three additional entrances and extended the length of known passage in Upper Twin Cave to over three miles. The uppermost of these new entrances is located on the Shawnee Karst Preserve and provides the most expedient access to the main cave passage for purposes of recreation and scientific study.

1 At that time, the Twin Cave entrances to the system were known as Dalton Cave (for a nearby landowner).

SUBSURFACE RESOURCES: The entire cave system is formed in the Salem Limestone. Most of the cave contains an active stream, and these passages are joint-controlled. The stream passage is also known to flood. Deep pools are often found where the passage abruptly changes direction, and solution scallops on the cave walls and potholes on the floor suggest that the cave stream carries a lot of energy after heavy rains. The Upper Twin section of the cave contains 16,353 feet (3.1 miles) of mapped passage with a vertical extent of 36 feet. Dye-tracing has confirmed that water from the cave originates at the Sinks of Mosquito Creek (S1/2, Section 15, T3N R1E). The water issuing from the main entrance proceeds downstream into Lower Twin entrance, continues through the Bronson karst window and ultimately out of the Donaldson entrance of the system.

The main (or downstream) entrance to Upper Twin Cave consists of an opening on the south wall of a large collapse sink within the state park. This is where the boat dock and dam are located. The entrance owned by the IKC lies in another, much smaller collapsed sinkhole south of the park property and about 4200 feet upstream from the main entrance.

Through a body-size opening into a small room, then a short scramble down talus and breakdown, leads directly to the active cave stream. The passage downstream (left) varies between 3 and 9 feet high for most of its length, although there are places requiring crawling, and other places where the ceiling is 20 feet or more high. Water depth varies from ankle-deep to more than 5 feet. Within 200 feet downstream there is a short-cut to the left over mud fill. Continuing another 40 feet in the chest-deep stream, a side passage on the right can be found, which quickly becomes wetter and tighter. Another 200 feet downstream a 25-foot climb-up on the left leads to a narrow canyon ending in a large formation room.

Continuing in the main passage the water depth varies greatly. Follow the joints in the bedrock through six bends followed by a straight shot for about 600 feet. At this point the main stream turns sharply left and two smaller stream passages enter the main passage from the right. The first passage is narrow and about 4 feet high but soon becomes lower. The second is wider and taller and may be followed for about 300 feet until it becomes too low to continue. A breakdown mound is found opposite the entrance to this second passage.

The next 900 feet of main passage is of walking height and fairly straight but the water becomes progressively deeper. Eventually the passage makes a sharp turn to the right and within another 40 feet a small, dry passage can be seen entering on the right. Continuing beyond this point you begin to approach the area where the state park conducts their boat tours. Unless you have a DNR issued cave permit, retrace your steps and return to the IKC-managed entrance.

The upstream portion of the cave is about twice as long. Passage dimensions vary greatly and several locations require crawling in water and other places require swimming. Approximately 4400 feet upstream of the IKC entrance the passage splits. The right-hand passage is 200 feet of mostly stoop-walk where a third passage enters from the left. Continuing straight leads to a breakdown blockage within another 300 feet. Turning left leads to a progressively drier canyon about 600 feet long that re-joins the main passage. Back at the original split, the main stream passage on the left starts out high but involves a couple of wet stoopwalks for about 1100 feet to the point where the third passage previously mentioned rejoins it. A well casing can be seen in this section of the cave.

At this junction it's easier to continue upstream by climbing up the mud bank to the left rather than belly-crawling in the water. In 100 feet this upper passage rejoins the main stream passage at a breakdown mound. The remaining 1200 feet of cave alternates between walking and stoop but eventually becomes a belly crawl that ends in a sump. If you can get far enough you'll observe another well casing going directly through the middle of the cave passage.

Upper Twin Cave contains a broad variety of troglobitic species including the well-known northern cavefish Amblyopsis spelaea and the crayfish Orconectes inermis. Less well-known troglobitic invertebrates include the rare water mite Homohalacarus subterraneus, the pseudoscorpion Apochthonius indianensis and an undescribed (new to science) species of the dipluran Litocampa (Lewis, 2011).

MANAGEMENT PERSONNEL: Within this document, the following individuals and groups will have management responsibilities:

  • IKC Executive Board – The membership-elected governing board of the IKC.
  • Property Manager – The IKC Executive Board appointed individual whose primary responsibility is to implement and execute the Management Plan and oversee the property with the exception of the cave. The Property Manager is required to make an annual report to the IKC Executive Board pertaining to the property. The Property Manager will function as the back-up for the Cave Patron when the Patron is unavailable.
  • Cave Patron – The IKC Executive Board appointed individual whose primary responsibility is to oversee the cave on the property. This includes arranging access, monitoring impact, and maintaining usage records. The Cave Patron is also required to make an annual report to the IKC Executive Board pertaining to the cave, visitation usage, incidents, etc. The Cave Patron and the Property Manager may be the same person.
  • Property Management Committee – This committee generally will consist of the Property Manager (de facto Chair) and the Cave Patron, and any other designated volunteers who assist with maintaining the property and cave. The Property Manager can select and delegate responsibilities to the volunteer committee members.
  • Grotto Liaisons – These are approved representatives from the grottos that have signed a cooperative agreement with the IKC for arranging access to specific cave covered in the agreement. Upper Twin Cave is one of these caves. The Grotto Liaison has the authority to grant access to visit Upper Twin Cave for the Liaison's respective grotto members. This is not only for the convenience of the grotto members, but also lessens the burden on the Cave Patron, and in theory the Grotto Liaison should be in a better position to know the grotto members requesting access. The Grotto Liaison has the responsibility to follow all rules under the cooperative agreement, handle all paperwork appropriately, maintain access records (submitted annually), and work with the Cave Patron.

SUBSURFACE MANAGEMENT: Upper Twin Cave will be managed as a natural, wild cave. No improvements for the convenience of the visitors will be allowed or desired. Digging or other alterations for exploration or expansion of the cave is prohibited without prior approval of the IKC Executive Board. Cave restoration (other than trash removal) is limited to IKC-sponsored workdays and similar events. The purpose is to keep all restoration methods consistent with IKC approved practices.

At this time the IKC is not restricting maximum group size, the number of cavers in the cave, or the frequency of cave trips. However, the biological diversity of this cave system is high and the cave contains a number of rare species. At the discretion of the Executive Board, additional restrictions may be necessary if faunal populations are observed to be negatively impacted by existing visitation practices.

CAVE ACCESS POLICY: This is not a cave for a novice. This cave is very wet and a real danger of hypothermia and/or flooding exists. Only experienced cavers with knowledge of the dangers and their own limitations will be allowed to visit Upper Twin Cave.

No youth groups will be allowed in Upper Twin Cave. All cavers must be at least 18 years of age or accompanied by an experienced caver parent or guardian. No other exceptions.

For safety purposes, the recommended number of participants on a trip is no fewer than four (4). If a caver gets hurt, this allows for someone to stay with the injured caver while the other two exit for help. Due to deep water and exposure, a wetsuit and/or flotation device is suggested for trips downstream, and strongly recommended for any trips upstream.

Those wishing to visit Upper Twin Cave via the IKC entrance must contact the Cave Patron or their Grotto Liaison (if applicable) to obtain permission. The Property Manager is also an authorized backup to grant access. All persons entering the cave must sign a RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY AGREEMENT, follow surface and subsurface rules established by the IKC, and agree to protect the cave's biology and other natural resources.

The Cave Patron/Grotto Liaisons can authorize or deny ordinary (recreational) cave trips. Trips with some extra-ordinary purpose require IKC Executive Board approval. Trip requests may be denied if there are concerns about the cavers' capability (poor gear, etc.). However, the authorizing parties are not expected to certify a caver's competence and approval is not attesting to the requestor's abilities.

Prior to the trip, the trip leader will download from the IKC's website or receive a liability agreement and the visitation rules to be followed while on the property. The trip leader will be responsible for having each participant read and sign a copy of the liability agreement, then return the signed agreements to the Cave Patron or Grotto Liaison before the trip. The trip leader will also inform all the participants of the visitation rules before entering the property. The rules cover the minimum number of participants per trip, where to park, appropriate precautions while changing clothes before and after the trip, rules to assure a low profile, the specific path to take from the parking area to the cave, precautions related to the weather, and information pertaining to emergencies. Any improper behavior may result in those persons being barred from future visits.

The liability agreement will be kept on file for at least two years. A current release is required for each caver the first time they visit the cave each calendar year. The Cave Patron, with assistance from the Grotto Liaisons, will maintain a log of trips and visitors to the cave to assess visitation impact on the resource. The Patron will prepare a report on visitation and impacts and present it to the IKC Board on an annual basis.

Monetary compensation of the trip leader (cave-for-fee) is strictly prohibited. The Conservancy will also vigorously prosecute any violations of the Indiana Cave Resource Protection Act, IC 35-43-1-3 or any other vandalism on the property.

SURFACE RESOURCES: A legal description of the property is attached. The preserve consists of 50.31 acres of mostly wooded karst terrain. All drainage of the property is subterranean. A number of sinkholes are found on the property, several of which take water after rains. One sinkhole pond is present, and a two-acre limestone glade with native grasses is providing bird habitat.

At the time of purchase, the property had recently been logged. There are several stands of cedar trees and the logging roads remain open.

SURFACE MANAGEMENT: The property has been enrolled in the DNR Classified Forest program. The surface will be managed according to the forest stewardship plan. Any native trees existing or introduced to the property will be maintained using current best practices outlined by the DNR Division of Forestry. Volunteer trees seeded from nearby wooded areas will not be removed unless the species are noxious or non-native. Controlled burning or minimal application of approved herbicides may be pursued as needed for vegetative management. Vine control and Timber Stand Improvements will be utilized for maintaining and enhancing a healthy and diverse forest rather than marketable timber production.

Grasses will be introduced to control ongoing erosion along the roadway. It may also be necessary to remove some of the stands of cedar trees. Trees will be removed from the limestone glade area to promote the native plants.

Part of existing skidder road will upgraded to a driveway into the interior of the property. There is a low spot in this drive that ponds water and may require a culvert or other drainage modifications. Several locations along the drive will require additional hardening. A road gate with combination lock will be installed near the highway to control unauthorized vehicle access.

The IKC may construct a trail system on the property for interpretive and recreational purposes. Existing logging trails will be given priority as they are already established. No boardwalks, bridges, overlooks, or similar improvements will be installed unless needed to facilitate maintenance. Once established, occasional mowing may be used to maintain the trails until sufficient foot traffic hardens the paths. Other measures (such as water bars or aggregate) may be necessary to control erosion on steeper sections.

Riding of horses, ATVs, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, or similar conveyances is prohibited on the preserve. Except for maintenance activities, vehicular use is restricted to the hardened driveway and designated parking area. Hunting and trapping are also prohibited, except as needed for appropriate wildlife management; and will be performed in a manner in keeping with state wildlife regulations. The discharging of firearms, fireworks, or other explosive devices will not be allowed. Digging or other surface modifications are prohibited without prior approval of the IKC Executive Board. Collecting on the property is prohibited with the exception of mushrooms, berries, and nuts.

The IKC will establish no more than three campsites on the preserve, with parking sufficient for two vehicles per site. This is in addition to the main parking area for visiting the cave. Minimal amenities will be provided so as to provide a safe but primitive camping experience. These campsites are restricted to IKC members and their guests, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The IKC will not provide facilities for group camping on this property. Downed firewood may be collected on the property. To mitigate possible introduction of tree pests and parasites, firewood should not be brought onto the property unless purchased from an approved USDA source or kiln-dried lumber scraps.

There are at least two trash dumps on the preserve and other un-natural debris. These items will be hauled away or recycled.

An informational kiosk may be installed at some future time. At this time there are no plans to place other permanent structures on the preserve.

SURFACE ACCESS: Vehicular access to the property will be solely through the gated driveway. Walk-in access to the property by the public is neither encouraged nor discouraged, and permission to hike on the property is not required. However, other surface activities require permission and coordination through the management team.


Scott, Will, 1909, "An Ecological Study of the Plankton of Shawnee Cave, with Notes on the Cave Environment", Biol. Bull. v. 17 No. 6, pp. 386-406, 3 figs.

von Osinski, W., 1935, "Karst Windows", Indiana Acad. Sci. Proc., v. 44 pp 161-165, 2 figs.

Eigenmann, C.H., and Beeson, C.H., 1894, "The fishes of Indiana," Indiana Acad. Sci. Proc., v. 9 pp 76-108.

Powell, R. L, 1961, "Caves of Indiana," Circ. No. 8, Indiana Geological Survey, pp. 11-17, 60-61, 73.

Lewis, J., 2011, Personal communication.


The following rules should be reviewed by all visitors BEFORE ENTERING THE PROPERTY. These rules must be followed to protect the cave, the property, the IKC, and all visitors. It is also important to follow these rules to maintain a good working relationship with the adjacent landowners. Remember you are a guest on this property and represent all cavers that come after you, PLEASE be on your best behavior.

  1. Follow All rules and requests of the Upper Twin Cave Patron and Grotto Liaisons.
  2. Park in the designated parking area. Close and lock the driveway gate behind you.
  3. Keep a low profile at all times while on the property. Talk quietly and no horse play.
  4. Remain on designated trails and do not trespass onto adjacent properties.
  5. The group size for Upper Twin Cave should be no fewer than four (4).
  6. Youth groups are not allowed in Upper Twin Cave.
  7. All cavers must wear a helmet and have three independent sources of light. Proper foot wear and clothing should be worn; in particular, prepare to be immersed in 52-degree water.
  8. Swimming and/or flotation devices are needed to reach most sections of Upper Twin Cave.
  9. Upper Twin Cave is known to frequently flood. Do not enter the cave if rain is forecast or during or after a rain.
  10. Do not enter the cave under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
  11. No smoking in the cave. No smoking on the property when dry conditions exist.
  12. Do not change clothes in sight of the road or nearby property owners.
  13. Avoid exiting the cave at any entrance located within state park boundaries (except in an emergency) unless you have previously obtained a cave permit from the DNR.
  14. Before leaving the parking area, be sure to pick up all trash, clothing, cigarette butts, etc.
  15. Tell someone where you have gone and when you will return. For rescue call Indiana State Police at (812)332-4411.


Part of the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter and part of the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 4, Township 3 North, Range 1 east, more particularly described as follows:

Beginning at an iron pipe at the southeast corner of the said southwest quarter of the southeast quarter; thence south 89 degrees 33.9 minutes west on the south line of said Section 4, 2665.82 feet to an iron pipe at the southwest corner of said southeast of the southwest quarter; thence north 00 degrees 23.2 minutes east, on the west line of said southeast quarter of the southwest quarter, 585.50 feet to an iron pipe; thence north 89 degrees 33.9 minutes east, 969.91 feet to an iron pipe; thence north 00 degrees 23.2 minutes east; 347.51 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe; thence south 89 degrees 36.8 minutes east, 303.52 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe; thence north 65 degrees 00.0 minutes east 210.00 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe; thence south 87 degrees 07.0 minutes east, 520.91 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe; thence south 07 degrees 00.7 minutes west, 61.74 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe; thence north 70 degrees 33.5 minutes east, 315.34 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe on the southwest right of way line to State Road #60; thence following said right of way line, south 58 degrees 05.3 minutes east, 308.94 feet to a concrete right of way marker; thence south 50 degrees 34.0 minutes east, 166.37 feet to a marked 1/2 inch iron pipe on the east line of the said southwest quarter of the southeast quarter; thence south 00 degrees 23.2 minutes west, 755.33 feet to the point of beginning.

Containing 50.31 acres, more or less.

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