“The conservancy’s mission is to protect and preserve these caves, educate the public, and acquire property like the Dahm Springs Preserve,” said Rene Ohms, secretary and treasurer of Black Hills Cave and Nature Conservancy.
In October 2019, the conservancy formed as a nonprofit. And in 2020, the cavers were able to purchase, research, and protect their first acquisition with Dahm Springs Preserve’s seven caves and 46.5 acres.
Registering with the National Speleological Society (NSS) made it the 20th national cave preserve.
“If you’re exploring a cave and nobody’s found the end of it yet, you’re going places that no one’s ever been before.” -Rene Ohms
Marilyn Dahm Borgesen, 86, was the owner of the land prior to the conservancy, according to Ohms.
“She has been a longtime friend of cavers in the Black Hills,” said Ohms.
At the end of 2020, Ohms says they hosted the successful Give & Win Fundraiser.
“We were blown away by the generosity of people across the country and across the world,” she said.
Donations flooded in from people in four different countries. Together they raised $22,000 for the nonprofit.
Conservancy vice president Adam Weaver says that some of the caves on the preserve are gated off at the moment to protect the formations.
“We gated Dahm Springs Cave itself because it’s a pristine cave that’s full of formations, and it has a big pond in it that’s spring-fed with what we think is a calcified racoon skeleton in the water,” he said.
Secrets of Brooks Cave
“Brooks Cave has two lakes in it that are the top of the Madison Aquifer. The only other two caves that have that are Wind Cave and Jewel Cave,” said Weaver.
He continued, saying that two talented cave divers, including Andrew Pitkin, are going to come explore and map under the water late this summer. He’s hopeful they will find more dry cave passages to continue mapping in their exploration.
The biggest cave on the preserve is Brooks Cave, and to get into it a caver has to be able to get through a 9-inch space.
“At the end of this long series of crawls, it opens up but it’s a big pit,” said Ohms.
Any interested cavers can get involved in exploration with the local caving club, Paha Sapa Grotto.
“Everywhere you go across the country the caves are so different from one another,” said Ohms. “Some are wet and muddy, and some are dry and sparkling with white crystals.”
“so when you hear how long a cave is, it’s not how long the cave is; it’s how long the map is.” – ADAM WEAVER
Both explorers have an intense distaste for the slippery nature of Goodhue Cave in Custer State Park.
But trips with a little sprinkle of danger don’t always scare them away.
+ Experienced project caver.
+ Jewel Cave and Wind Cave Expedition Leader.
+ Vice President of the NSS.
+ Vice chairman of the Paga Sapa Grotto.
+ Expedition caver with over 20 years of experience.
+ Fellow of the NSS.
+ National Cave Rescue Commission contributing editor.
South Dakota has the most living winners of the NSS Lew Bicking Award, an achievement for cave exploration and mapping, according to Weaver. Ohms was the 2020 winner.
One of Ohms’ favorite explorations was in the thrilling Great Expectations Cave in Wyoming.
“Caves have a feel to them a lot of the time, and that cave feels like it wants to kill you,” Weaver said with a laugh.
But Ohms loves it for how memorable it is.
“At the very end of that trip, you go through what’s called the Grim Crawl of Death, and it’s basically like two feet high for about 1,200 feet and has the river running through it,” said Ohms. “It takes about an hour to go through that.”
Weaver emphasized that all the cavers on that trip were plenty experienced, and there always has to be someone who has been there before.
“The trip Rene is talking about is one of the hardest trips that you can do,” he said. “The NSS doesn’t let people do it very much.”
This summer, they plan to go on a “yo-yo” trip, going through and coming back again.
Ohms added, “The exploration aspect of it is really exciting for me. You never know what you’re going to find.”