One less 100 Footer in Tennessee
By Kelly Smallwood NSS 58745 RL FE
This is an article I wrote back in 2010 about our survey of Swell Well in Marion County, Tennessee. While there are currently thirty-seven 100+ plus foot pits in Marion County, this used to be considered one of them until an "official" survey was completed by Jason Hardy. It is also a great story about meeting a landowner and helping to heal caver landowner relations...
Friday September 10th, 2010 - My plans were to meet Jason Hardy at his new place near Whiteside, TN to help him move in. While waiting on him to arrive, I decided to drive around and check out the neighborhood a bit. Not knowing exactly where to go I just picked a country road and started driving up it. It was becoming clear very fast that this might not be an area I should be in alone but I still needed to find a safe place to turn around. That is when I came across an old timer driving a small 4wd Cushman. He was coming down the road towards me and he stopped me in the road to ask me what I was doing in the area. He introduced himself to me as Mr. Young and informed me that he was out patrolling his land because someone had been dumping trash recently and he was trying to catch them. After assuring him I wasnt there to dump trash and even offered him a look in my car I engaged in a lengthy conversation with him about many things, including our local cave survey projects and conservation work. And as it turns out at one point in his life he had also lived in Georgia not far from where I presently live and grew up. He also informed me that he had caves on his land but wasn't too particular about allowing cavers access. He was upset about an incident that had happened many years earlier where he was left feeling disrespected by some cavers.
Later that day while Blaine Grindle and I were helping Jason move in, I told them of the landowner, Mr. Young, and his story. I thought it would be a good idea for Jason, especially since he is living in the area now, to make good landowner relations with him and to try and rectify some of the caver issues he had.
Sunday October 10th, 2010 – A month later on the Sunday of the annual TAG Fall Cave In, Jason Hardy along with Jason Money were looking for a Sunday Pit to bounce near his house in Whiteside, TN. Jason recalled the story of the landowner I met and thought it would be a good opportunity to stop by and finally meet him. After stopping by and chatting for a while with the landowner (Mr. Young) he told Jason he would think about letting us come back to his pit and surveying it as well. Jason exchanged contact information with Mr. Young and figured at this point that we wouldn‟t be hearing back from him anytime soon.
Sunday October 24th - Two weeks later Jason got a phone call. It was Mr. Young. He told Jason that we could come up there and take a look at his pit. Without wasting any time, Jason put together a survey team that included him, me and Julie Schenck-Brown.
Saturday October 30th – Jason, myself and Julie met up to go and meet Mr. Young and to survey what we knew was at least one 100 foot pit on his land. Upon research we determined that there are several caves/pits on the land but the most significant is Swell Well. On the Tennessee State survey it was listed as a 102 foot pit with 40 feet of passage in the bottom. After arriving and chatting with Mr. Young for a bit he showed us pictures that Alan Cressler had provided him many years earlier on one of his visits to the pit. Mr. Young suggested we drive up to the pit instead of walking since he had a road on his land that goes right by it. He graciously said he‟d ride in the bed of the truck so I offered to ride on the back with him. Upon going up the road, he called out to Jason at all the big stumps and which way to go on the road. It was quite impressive that he knew just about every little bump and turn we were going to hit even though he couldn‟t see the road in front of him. Once up the steep parts he showed us another area where he had found a small hole many years earlier. He told us of how he had thrown rocks into the hole and could hear dings as it was going down. After inspecting it, Jason knew it would need a lot of digging to open up so we decided to continue up the road to Swell Well. Mr. Young took us right to the pit. It is a small sink with an entrance of about 6 feet by 3 feet. We knew there was supposed to be at least one other small pit nearby, Doesn‟t Smell Well so before starting the survey Jason and Mr. Young walked around while Julie and I geared up. After finding it and returning with Jason, Mr. Young waited around at the top while Jason and Julie went in the pit with the tape. Just before the pit was taped he said he was going to walk back down to the house to check on his wife, whom he‟d been married to for 56 years! Julie and I thanked him for allowing us access and we informed him we would be stopping by on our way out before we left his property. We were all quite impressed with Mr. Young and that he went up to the pit with us and then even ridge walked around. To be an old timer he was in good shape and you could tell he really had a love for his land. With Jason on bottom and Julie at the top it was measured at 95.8 feet.
It was double checked because we knew this would remove it from the notorious 100+ foot pits of Tennessee list that cavers collect and it would alleviate any unnecessary stress of Mr. Young finding trespassing cavers on his property. Once at the bottom we set three stations for a horizontal length of 35.3 feet and the overall cave depth is 101 foot. I also took some photos of the pit and some detailed macro shots for Mr. Young. There seemed to be a lot of turtles that had fallen into this pit over the years. I counted at least 5 dead turtles along with some other animal bones that appeared to be canine. It was a very pretty pit with flowstone going down one side and lots of smaller formations on the other. There is a ledge about 40 feet down and a large tree stump that rests on it. I also noted some Blastoid Fossils on the wall near the top of the pit but was unable to photograph them.
Once the survey was complete we headed back down the mountain to inform Mr. Young of how the survey went. He greeted us on his front porch and even offered us some of his wife‟s homemade sweet tea. He was so kind he told us that if he had some sandwich meat and bread he would have even offered us a sandwich. We sat on his porch with him for over an hour, enjoying the beautiful view of the Tennessee River and hearing lots of old stories from Mr. Young.
Mr. Young would like the caving community to know that his caves and land are not open for access. He loves his property very much and doesn‟t want people hiking around or trespassing on his land. Because his land borders land with the TVA he has had problems in the past of people trespassing and even leaving litter behind. He allowed us to map the pit so he could have a map of what is on his property and at the end of the day we were all very happy. Mr. Young will now have a map of his pit that he can show off to his family and we as cavers know that we have left a good feeling about us with Mr. Young. In the future, Jason would like to return to map Doesn‟t Smell Well for Mr. Young and to continue to keep good landowner relations between him and cavers.