Sullivan Cave and Property Management Plan

Lawrence County, Indiana

(Revision Approved March 18, 2006)

INTRODUCTION: The Indiana Karst Conservancy, Inc. purchased the 28-acre Sullivan Cave property. The Conservancy will manage Sullivan Cave so that it will be available for recreation and scientific study by responsible cavers, while at the same time protecting the cave for future generations of cavers. The surface property will be managed to enhance the overall natural setting while protecting the sub-surface resources.

HISTORY OF THE CAVE: The 40-foot section of Sullivan Cave from the entrance to the Waterfall Room and some of the crevice passage in that area has been known to explorers since the 1840s. Signatures from the late 1800s are found in the Backbreaker. In 1952, National Speleological Society cavers became interested in the cave and the Backbreaker passage.

Art Davis, a member of the newly formed Central Indiana Grotto, took an interest in Sullivan cave in 1956. His first trip to Sullivan Cave was on January 22, 1956. At that time the known part of Sullivan Cave consisted of the Backbreaker Passage and the three branches of the Water Room Passage. The ceiling drips in the Water Room were the only known water in the cave (other than at the entrance). The Popcorn Connection to the lower level was unknown (the crawl hole into the Water Room is now blocked by a ceiling collapse in the room). Art was sure the cave must contain an active stream. He decided to check every possibility between the entrance and the "end" of the cave.

On May 5, 1956, Davis and John Danner discovered the Mountain Room. The discovery passage is a small crawl under the ledge, about 30 feet toward the entrance from the present crawlway. The present passage to the Mountain Room was dug after the discovery. On December 29, 1956, Davis and Ruben Vig discovered the Quarry Room.

In August 1962 a group of seven cavers, led by Mike Wischmeyer, a teen-age member of the Central Indiana Grotto, spent two weeks in Sullivan Cave. The group's main objective was to complete surveying of the cave. They surveyed 5,588 feet of passage and discovered about 2,000 feet of new passage. Exploring north of the Quarry Room they surveyed a side passage believing it to be the main passage. They noticed the main passage but, thinking it was a side passage, did not explore it.

Four months later, Wischmeyer, along with Leigh Lawton, Sam Frushour, and Ron Pflum checked out this side passage and discovered the Beyond-the-Beyond section consisting of 8,000 feet of passage and eight large rooms.

The second Sullivan Cave expedition was organized for August 1963 with the objective of exploring and mapping the Beyond-the-Beyond. This time a group, again led by Wischmeyer, spent three weeks isolated in Sullivan Cave.

Sullivan Cave has been a well-known and popular cave since the 1960s. Vandalism has always been a problem and one of the objectives of the two expeditions was to clean carbide graffiti off the cave walls. The discovery of spray paint by the vandals in the 1970s made the problem much worse. By the late 1980s the owner of the cave was tiring of all the traffic, noise, and inconsiderate visitors. In January 1990, in order to help protect the cave and to persuade the owner to let the cave remain open to responsible cavers, the Central Indiana Grotto placed a stout gate, designed by Keith Dunlap, on Sullivan Cave's main entrance.

In the summer of 1997, Sullivan Cave's owner indicated the property would be put up for sale. The sale of a large, popular cave is always an emergency for the caving community. Anything can happen with a new owner, and the concern is that it will not be good for cavers. Two Indiana Karst Conservancy members, Keith Dunlap and Bob Decker, purchased the cave, then offered it to the Indiana Karst Conservancy. In December 1997 the Board of Directors of the Conservancy voted to purchase the cave and to begin a fund raising drive. The Indiana Karst Conservancy purchased the property on Oct. 27, 1998.

SUBSURFACE RESOURCES: Sullivan Cave is the fourth-longest cave in Indiana with 9.63 miles of mapped passage (Appendix A). The cave is developed in the Ste. Genevieve Limestone of the Crawford Upland. Entry into the cave is a series of short climb-downs to the waterfall room. A passage to the right connects with the famous Backbreaker, a long low passage. The Backbreaker passage to the right leads to the Lost Dome area. To the left the passage goes to the main part of the cave. The passage becomes higher as you approach the Tee. To the right is the Merry-Go-Round, a circular canyon passage. To the left is the main portion of the cave. A low crawl off the Backbreaker leads to the Mountain Room, some 60 feet high and 100 feet across. The flood route of the Sullivan River is reached here. Downstream leads to the South Y and the Sullivan River. The river passage is 15 to 20 feet high. Upstream the passage ends at breakdown. Downstream leads to Armstrong's Folly -- a dig through clay fill -- and the Spiral Room. A crawl from the Spiral Room leads around a breakdown blockage of the Sullivan River and out Speed Hollow Spring.

Upstream from the Mountain Room leads to the North Y, the Quarry Room and Beyond-The-Beyond. Continuing upstream from the Quarry Room is the deep water and a 70-foot bathtub with 6 inches of air space. Beyond the bathtub is the Coliseum and the Colossus, the largest room in Sullivan Cave. The Colossus is 120 feet high and 200 feet long. There are eight rooms in this section of the cave. The passage upstream ends in a sump with a good flow of water, suggesting the cave extends onward if only a by-pass could be found. The north section is a difficult trip even if the route is known.

Biological life in the cave consists of a small bat population (Pipistrelle, Little Brown, and Indiana), cave and surface crayfish, salamanders, isopods, amphipods, and beetles. The famous Sullivan cavefish is a sculpin routinely found in the Sullivan River from the South Y to Speed Hollow Spring.

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 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. This includes arranging access, monitoring impact, maintaining the entrance gate/lock, 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 one in the same person.
  • Property Management Committee - This committee generally will consist of the Property Manager and the Cave Patron, and any other designated volunteers who assist with maintaining the property and cave.
  • Grotto Liaisons – These are approved representatives from the grottos that have signed a cooperative agreement with the IKC for arranging access to specific caves covered in the agreement. Sullivan Cave is one of these caves. The Grotto Liaison has the authority to grant access to visit Sullivan 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 person 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: Sullivan Cave is managed as a natural, wild cave. No improvements for the convenience of visitors will be allowed or desired. Digging or other alterations in the cave is prohibited without approval of the IKC board.

Cave restoration (other than trash removal) is limited to IKC sponsored trips. The purpose is to keep all restoration practices consistent with IKC approved practices.

Due to the concerns about the impact of food, cooking, elimination, and the like, camping is not allowed in the cave.

CAVE ACCESS POLICY: The cave is open to organized, responsible cavers. Those wishing to visit Sullivan Cave should contact the Cave Patron or their Grotto Liaison (if applicable) to obtain a permit. All persons entering the cave will sign a liability release, follow surface and subsurface rules established by the IKC, and agree to protect the cave's natural resources. The Cave Patron/Grotto Liaison can authorize or deny ordinary cave trips. Trips with some extra-ordinary purpose require IKC board approval.

Due to high visitation on some weekends, trips arranged through the Grotto Liaisons shall be communicated to/coordinated through the Cave Patron to avoid multiple large-groups conflicts and parking problems.

All trips must have an approved leader. An approved leader is someone who practices conservation and safe caving as defined by the IKC and has first hand knowledge of the cave. The Cave Patron/Grotto Liaison will determine if the caving group leader meets the requirement of an approved leader. There will be an approved leader for each 12 cavers in the group. There must be an adult of the immediate family for every child under the age of 12.

At this time there is no limit on the total number of cavers in the cave. Experience may show that a maximum number should be established in the future.

Prior to the trip, the trip leader will obtain a liability waiver/information form (Appendix B) and the visitation rules (Appendix C) to be followed while on the property. Participants under 18 years of age must have a parent or guardian signature on the liability waiver/information form.

The trip leader is responsible for having each participant read and sign a copy of the liability waiver/information form, then return the waivers to the Cave Patron/Grotto Liaison before the trip. The trip leader will also inform all the participants of the visitation rules before entering the property. The rules will cover such things as where to park, precautions related to the weather and emergencies. Any improper behavior reported to the IKC may result in those persons or the grotto being barred from future visits. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts are expected to comply with their internal rules in addition to the policies outlined by the IKC.

Monetary compensation of the trip leader (cave-for-fee) is strictly prohibited.

The release forms will be kept on file for a minimum of two years. Subsequent trips made by a caver during the same calendar year will not require a new waiver to be signed. 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 Conservancy will vigorously prosecute any violations of the Indiana Cave Resource Protection Act, IC 35-43-1-3 (Appendix E), or any other vandalism on the property.

SURFACE RESOURCES: The property consists of 28 acres of mostly wooded terrain. The property is roughly 850 feet wide (east-west) and 1,400 feet long (north-south) with a notch cut out of the northwest corner of the tract (see Appendix F for the legal description and boundary survey). The property is bounded by State Road 54 along its northern border, which provides access to the property. The cave entrance is located very near the eastern border and all the known underlying passages are confined to the eastern half of the property.

Approximately 20 acres of the property is considered mature forest, although the quality of the trees is better towards the east side of the property. There is a small clearing (approximately one acre) in the middle of the property, just west of the cave entrance accessible from SR 54 by way of a hardened lane. There is another small opening (approximately one acre) on the western side of the property just south of the notch, and several acres of open land on top of the ridge towards the southern end on the property. These latter two openings have been planted with hardwood trees. The property has over 130 feet of relief from the ridge top (820 feet AGL) down to the ravine near the cave entrance (690 feet). There are several rocky, wet-weather streams of interest and a sometimes-active spring.

SURFACE MANAGEMENT: Little active management of surface resources will be performed. The forested areas will not be modified and no trees will be cut other than for safety considerations or existing road/trail access. The reforested western clearing and ridge-top clearing will be allowed to mature. Invasive plants will be controlled and eradicated as necessary. Exotic plants may be controlled if found to be impacting native plants. Pest control to protect native resources is permitted.

The central clearing will be maintained by occasional mowing and serves as a parking and camping area. This area is poorly drained and is often soft during winter/spring, so off-gravel vehicle traffic should be avoided during these times. The vehicle lane into this clearing is marginal and will need occasional re-hardening. A locked gate will be maintained on the driveway to discourage unauthorized activities on the property.

Two existing trails will be maintained by the Conservancy; the trail from the “pull-off” parking area along State Road 54 down to the cave's entrance, and the short trail from the cave's entrance up the hill to the central clearing. There is an opportunity for a nice loop nature trail on the property roughly following its perimeter (part of this trail already exists to provide maintenance access to the two re-forested fields). The decision and desirability to construct the full loop trail will be at the discretion of the Executive Board.

The corners of the property are currently marked with steel posts. These posts will be maintained for easy locating of the property boundaries. Concrete monuments at the boundary corners would be desirable. There is an open structure on the east side of the central clearing. This structure will be retained and possibly upgraded as a privacy room for changing clothes before and after cave trips. An informational sign or kiosk will be erected on the property to explain ownership and access, and to display the list of donors who helped purchase the property. Specific references to the cave will not be included on this sign to avoid attracting the curious. Additional structures are not desired with the exception of a portable outhouse or permanent privy constructed in an appropriate manner to prevent groundwater contamination.

Collecting on the property is prohibited with the exception of mushrooms, berries, fruit, and nuts. Hunting is prohibited. The discharging of firearms, fireworks, or other explosive devices will not be allowed. Digging or other surface modifications are prohibited.

SURFACE ACCESS: Walk-in access to property by the public is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Permission to hike on the property is not required. However, other surface activities require permission and coordination through the Management Committee.

CAMPING: Camping on the property is allowed, but highly restricted. Camping privileges are granted to individual IKC members and their accompanying guests. Campers are to keep a quiet, low profile. This is not a place to party. To promote seclusion and solitude, and due to limited camping space, only one group at a time will generally be granted permission. Camping will be arranged through the Cave Patron and/or Property Manager. Camping is restricted to designated areas, contingent upon ground conditions. Campfires are only allowed in the designated fire ring. Firewood may not be collected from the property, but may be available in the woodshed for a small donation. All trash must be packed out.


The following rules should be reviewed by all visitors BEFORE ENTERING ONTO THE SULLIVAN CAVE 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 land owners. Remember you are a guest on this property and represent all cavers that come after you, PLEASE be on your best behavior.

  • Follow all rules and requests of the Sullivan Cave Patron.
  • At least one approved leader for each group of twelve (12).
  • Keep a low profile at all times while on the property. Talk quietly and no horse play.
  • Park in the locations designated by the Cave Patron.
  • Do not change clothes in sight of the road or nearby property owners.
  • Lock all gates (including the cave gate) behind you so unauthorized entry does not occur. Leave the cave gate key near the entrance in a location known to all members of your party. Do not lose or duplicate the key.
  • Do not enter the stream area of the cave during high water conditions. Do not enter the north stream area when there is a chance of significant rain.
  • Do not enter the cave under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
  • Do not trespass on adjacent properties. The Speed Hollow Spring entrance is not on IKC–owned property and therefore should not be used.
  • Before leaving the parking area, be sure to pick up all trash, clothing, cigarette butts, etc...
  • There must be an adult of the immediate family for every child under the age of 12.
  • Never cave alone. Wear a helmet. Carry three sources of light. Tell someone where you have gone and when you will return. For rescue call the Indiana State Police at 812-332-4411.

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