On a sunny day, early in November, we met Gerry Keene, and Brittney & Josh Cooper to explore part of Tom Moore Cave and learn about the SEMO Grotto.
...how cool is this...
We met at the Perry Park Center and how cool is this - The Perry Park Center supply's caving equipment for cavers and the group - helmets, lights, elbow, and knee pads (you want those). Once equipped, we headed out to a private farm and walked to the cave entrance, hidden in a thicket.
Now we aren't talking about a nice trip through a warm and fuzzy tourist cave like Meramec Caverns in the safety of a jeep gazing at rock formations covered with colorful lighting. Nope, this was hard-core caving. This was about crawling, walking on slippery-wet rocks, climbing, trudging through water, and navigating tight squeezes trying to keep my camera out of the mud.
A stunning sight to behold...
Up and down, over and under, we walked. I could feel burning and screaming of leg muscles that I didn't even know I had until we reached a good spot for a video interview. It was tough going, but not anything a person of average fitness couldn't handle.
We took a few pics and interviewed the gang. It was amazing. To be in complete darkness, with only the beam of my headlamp shining on the glittery gold flakes in the ceiling and the silky smooth stalactites, was incredible - breathtaking actually. A stunning sight to behold in our own 573 backyard and open to anyone who dares to take the trip.
The Tom Moore Cave is part of the Moore Cave system. Berome Moore Cave is the other part that has the Sabertooth paw prints. It is technically the same cave systems, and it’s the 2nd longest cave system in the state at just shy of 22 miles of passages. There is a survey planned for the Moore system, hoping to reach the 22-mile mark before the end of the year.
Check out the video.
Meet The Team
I'm Josh Cooper (35) work as a Freelance Graphic Designer. I'm a board member for the SEMO Grotto. I enjoy fishing, hiking, kayaking, camping, climbing, (MTB) trail riding, and of course, caving! I like exploring above and below ground. Last year I got my student pilot license through a class right here in the 573. Also, in the past year Gerry Keene and myself we have revitalized the SEMO Grotto with the help of our caving courses.
My wife Brittney is a member of SEMO Grotto, along with being a soccer and cheer mom. She has a great passion for kids, which is probably why she is an Assistant Director at Primrose Preschool. Brittney is a very adventurous person that loves the outdoors as well as our two kids Tripp and Lily. Tripp is our All-Star Soccer player who is in 6th grade. He loves to get muddy and has a big heart. Lily is our spunky little Perryville Youth Football Cheerleader and is in 2nd grade. She is always willing to try new things and knows no strangers.
I was hooked!
I have always had an interest in caving. Growing up, I would hear my dad's stories of wild caving with his buddies. I always knew we had a lot of caves in Perryville, but could never find a way to join the cavers on their adventures. Then the Park Center started offering courses, in association with the SEMO Grotto, to help involve the community as well as find the next generation of cavers. So my dad and I signed up and completed the beginner course. I was hooked! At that time, they only offered a beginner course. The next time I saw a posting for the course, I took my whole family with me! Now I'm leading trips with the wife and kids (and Gerry Keene) to help inform and recruit the next generation of SEMO cavers.
I love caving because caves are one of the last unexplored wonders of the world. There are not many places you can go to that have never been seen by human eyes. There is just an incredible natural beauty in the scenes, formations, and wildlife attributed to caves. I enjoy being active, and Caving uses more muscles I knew I ever had.
I love caving
The City of Perryville and Perry Park Center have been a great help with the courses, providing the gear, and helping advertise to the community. We offer three levels of classes through the Park Center, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The beginner and intermediate courses are available to people ages seven and up while the advanced course has a minimum age requirement of 15. The beginner course is mainly all walking passage with minimal climbing. The intermediate course adds obstacle of sloped mud banks, and minimal crawling and climbing. The advanced course is very technical compared to the other courses. Lots of climbing, crawling, and even rope aided drops. If you still want to cave after taking all the courses, I suggest looking into joining SEMO Grotto.
Southeast Missouri Grotto is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based out of Perryville, Missouri. We are also a chapter of the National Speleological Society and work in partnership with the Missouri Speleological Survey and Illinois Speleological Survey.
Southeast Missouri Grotto is a project-oriented organization, specializing in highly accurate surveying of caves and the drafting of cave maps. Other projects include restoration work, assistance with biological surveys, trash clean-ups, and cave management.
The SEMO Grotto is active in community outreach, focussing on the educational needs for new cavers in our area. Caves are a fragile environment and require special conservation protocols for their protection. As important and beautiful they are, caves are also dark, sometimes wet, and convoluted, requiring the utmost attention to safety. We are proud to offer an avenue for new cavers, landowners, and government officials to navigate their exploratory and conservation needs.
My name is Brittney Cooper (33). Josh Cooper and I have two children. We have always been a family that enjoys outdoors. In between soccer and cheerleading, we enjoy caving, hiking, kayaking, swimming, and rock climbing - small boulders at Elephant Rock. Josh introduced our family to caving for the first time after he had a beginner caving class. He was hooked and couldn’t wait to get us underground with him.
The first time we went underground, I was nervous. We attended the introduction class on Thursday and met at the Park Center on Saturday. We got the kids dressed in their layers, gloves, and old tennis shoes. They had elbow and knee pads from Walmart out of the bike section. Josh had already got them helmets and lights because he knew that this was going to be our new family adventure.
...they did amazingly!
When we arrived at the cave opening, the kids had mixed feelings. It was hot that day, and we were dressed in layers. They were hot and unsure of what we were getting into. Gerry encouraged the kids to find the entrance and lead the way. I followed them closely, reminding them to watch their steps, stay close, and make sure to have two points of contact. I questioned them about going into water passages and tunnels.
After 10-15 minutes of me micromanaging, they did amazingly! Tripp and Lily explored everything climbing, mud banks, small crawl ways, and waterways. The inside of a cave is like an underground playground. They came out muddy and wet with smiles from ear to ear. Since that day, the kids have explored six wild caves and been inside them numerous times.
Explore every part of this beautiful planet!
The beginner class at the Park Center is made for families to have the opportunity to dip their toes in the underground world. If you love it, they also offer harder caves to explore. I recommend every family try it. There is so much to explore. Between the formations and wildlife, I promise you will leave amazed. I believe everyone should at least once go underground, fly on a plane, and go for a nature walk. Explore every part of this beautiful planet!
My name is Gerry Keene (56). I am a member of SEMO Grotto. Mostly we are cavers banded together to explore, discover, preserve, and map the caves in the SEMO area. Most of the members are involved in project caving - mapping and discovering new caves and new sections of existing caves. Several ongoing projects are the continued exploration and mapping of Crevice cave – the longest cave in the state of Missouri and the same for Berome Moore Cave – A national wildlife sanctuary.
The friendships you form through caving are wonderful...
Caving is a unique hobby that pushes you to be better, extend your endurance, and overcome your natural human hesitations. The friendships you form through caving are wonderful friendships formed through respect of each other as a result of your shared experiences.
Josh, myself, and Brit are heavily involved in recreational caving, caving for the pure joy of it. Our primary ongoing effort is introducing the hobby of caving to the public through our partnership with the Perry Park Center. I enjoy introducing people to the hobby. Most of the time, they are checking something off their bucket list, and that is OK. Sometimes they get hooked, and I end up with excellent friends, like Josh and Brit.
Seeing the natural wonder under our feet is breathtaking and doesn't get old.
Seeing the natural wonder under our feet is breathtaking and doesn't get old. Traveling three hours into Crevice Cave to experience the Paradise room is simply amazing. Seeing a thriving bat colony or spotting a unique cavefish that only exists in Perry County or seeing paw prints from an animal that has been extinct for thousands of years can only be experienced in a cave. Crawling through a little hole that your dog might fit in at the beginning of a trip to emerge eight hours later at the other end of a river cave system that has had less than 100 humans venture into it over its thousands of year life – you don't experience that above ground.
It's just an enjoyable hobby that gives back and never ceases to amaze and humble. I am thankful I am still able to physically cave and that I can keep the company of the fantastic cavers I have come to know.
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