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Mid-Appalachian Region of
the National Speleological Society


The Mid-Appalachian Region, commonly referred to as "MAR", was established on June 13, 1953 by a small group of cavers meeting in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was originally called the "Eastern Region" or sometimes referred to as the"Easter Division of the National Speleological Society" and was intended to include the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. Like its predecessors, the Northeastern Regional Association (NRO) and the Virginia Region (VAR), the MAR, an internal organization of the National Speleological Society (NSS), was set up as an organization of grottos, not an organization of cavers.

The boundaries of the Mid-Appalachian Region have always been a little vague. Pennsylvania was always included; DC was always out. Maryland was mostly in but the Hagerstown Grotto that helped form the MAR quickly became inactive and the Baltimore Grotto is often active in the Virginia Region (VAR). Northeastern Ohio, mainly Cleveland, participated occasionally. Northern West Virginia was often part of MAR and many field meets have been held in West Virginia. In the early days the boundaries were important because each "Region" elected a regional representative to the NSS Board of Governors (BOG). At present, Regions serve to outline areas of caving activity with a good deal of mixing across vague boundaries and the various bordering regions have been able to live with this very comfortably.

The founding father of the MAR was Challis N. Bruce of New Castle, Pennsylvania.

He organized the first formal meeting which was held October 10-12, 1953 at Shippensburg State Teachers College, currently known as Shippensburg University. At this meeting the constitution and by-laws were drawn up and were ultimately approved on November 12, 1953. At this time the name was changed from Eastern Region to the name of Mid-Appalachian Region (MAR).

The Shippensburg meeting, under Bruce's leadership, also set the tone for the next several years. There were various cave trips but the main part was a technical meeting of talks and slide shows. Although Bruce got the MAR off to a good start, his health failed shortly thereafter, after which he was forced to drop out of caving activities.

1953 Fall MAR Meet Flyer

1953 Fall MAR Meet Flyer
October 10-12, 1953
Shippensburg, PA
Flyer Courtesy of the MAR Library

For several years the MAR was "moribund". It was rejuvenated in the late 1950's by cavers from Pittsburgh and Nittany Grottos; meetings were again held and MAR Bulletins were published in 1957 and 1958. A formal meeting of the Region Council on October 5, 1957 revised the constitution and by-laws to the form in which they stood for 30 years until some revisions in the late 1980s.

After the 1957 Council meeting, it became customary to hold an annual business meeting. During the early MAR years, the organization convened annually at the residence of Dr. Ralph W. Stone, located on Front Street in Harrisburg, PA, until his death in 1964.

After Dr. Stone's death, The Herbein's (Jay and Kathy) began hosting the annual business meeting and remained the annual hosts for 45 years from 1965 to 2010. In recognition for their many years of dedication to the MAR, Jay received a life membership to the National Speleological Society (NSS) by the NSS President, Gordon Birkhimer, and Kathy was presented with a flower arrangement and a donation to a local humane society in honor of her name.

Starting in February 2011, the annual business meeting changed to its "new" location at Mt. Laurel Park, near Linglestown, PA. The meetings were held here for 4 years as to which time another new location was picked. For the February 2015 business meeting, the meeting is proposed to be held at the Mt Laurel Church of God, just up the street from the former park location. (see Busness Meetings).

The MAR held two conventions during 1957, one in February at State College, Pennsylvania and another on November 9-10 at the Washington County Museum in Hagerstown, Maryland. These were rather formal attairs with formal paper presentations and a banquet with speakers. There were no formal cave trips. However, the format of the annual Regional Convention, modeled as a mini-NSS Convention, proved unworkable. Although the consitution called for both an annual field meet and an annual convention, no further conventions were held after 1957, and instead two field meets, one in the Spring and one in the Fall became the Region's main membership activity. This format is still presently followed.

It was decided from the beginning to produce a publication. Two of the papers given at the Shippensburg meeting in 1953 became MAR Bulletin 1. These were simply the typscripts of the papers, reproduced by mimeograph, and stapled back to back. MAR Bulletins 2 and 3 contained mainly the proceedings of the two 1957 MAR Conventions. Some abstracts and the full text of several short papers were included, along with some news, some politics, and a copy of the Region's consitution. With the demise of the MAR Conventions, there was little purpose for the MAR Bulletin. In 1958 the Bulletin was designated the vehicle for publication of the Pennsylvania Cave Survey and the publication of Region news and other commentary had to await the invention of the "MAR Breakdown" in 1986.

1953-2003:     50 Years Underground in the Mid-Appalachian

Official 50th Anniv. Logo

In 2003, the Mid-Appalachian Region (MAR) of the NSS celebrated its 50th Anniversary. In recognition of this, the Fall MAR fieldmeet was held at Peiper Cave near Shippensburg, PA in honor of the nearby location of the very first official MAR meeting back in 1953! The event was sponsored by the Greater Allentown Grotto (GAG) and took place on the Autumn weekend of September 26-28, 2003.

A special slideshow program on the MAR's history and the contributions by Bernard Smeltzer was given by Dr. William White on Saturday evening after the dinner. A field guide book, special 50th Anniversary T-shirts, and bottles of wine with the MAR logo were available to honor the memorable occasion.

After 50 years, times certainly have changed since Ralph W. Stone published Bulletin G3 -Pennsylvania Caves in 1930. The early maps revealed little detail and many descriptions were brief. Over the years, detailed maps became more common and artistic renderings of passages began to show up on maps. However, throughout the evolution of cave mapping, there was one man who seemed to be ahead of his time. Bernard L. Smeltzer. "Bernie" was among the first to add detailed cross-sections showing the underlying geological formation of dips and strike. As shown in the profile on numerous cave maps, he included artistic renderings such as massive flowstone, as early as 1950. It would be years before caving caught up with his vision.

   -The life of Bernard Smeltzer and some of his contributions as one of Pennsylvania's finest cartographers!

1953-2013:     Celebrating 60 years in the dark!

Unofficial 60th Anniv. Logo

The Mid-Appalachian Region (MAR) of the NSS celebrated its 60th Anniversary in the Fall of 2013. In recognition of this, the MAR not only held its usual Spring and Fall MAR fieldmeets, but was an active participate in the 2013 NSS Convention held in Shippensburg, PA.

The 2013 NSS Convention, was held at Shippensburg University, formally known as the Shippensburg State Teachers College, located in Shippensburg, PA on August 5-9, 2013. This is the same location of the first formal meeting of the Mid-Appalachian Region (MAR) held back on October 10-12, 1953 at which time the constitution and by-laws were drawn up setting the foundation of the organization.

A special slideshow program on the MAR's history and the contributions was given by Dr. William White on Saturday evening after the dinner. Various items were made for the Spring Field Meet and for the 60th Anniversary Party to celebrate and recognize the milestone. A special 60th Anniversary drink "koozys", leather drink coasters, and X with the MAR logo were available to honor the memorable occasion.

60th Anniv. cake

2013 NSS CONVENTION     The NSS Convention returned to Pennsylvania! It was over 40 years since the 27th Annual NSS Convention was held in State College, Pennsylvania in August 1970. The NSS Convention returned to the region as the 2013 NSS Convention was held in Shippensburg, PA on August 5-9, 2013. 2013 also marked the 60th Anniversary of the MAR!

MAR 60TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY     In celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the MAR, a special anniversary party was held on Tuesday, August 6, 2013, during the 2013 NSS Convention, in Shippensburg, PA. The event was held on Tuesday evening from 7:30 to 10:00pm in the Tuscarora Room located in the Reisner Dining Hall Building on the campus of Shippensburg University. Drinks, light refreshments, and an anniversary cake was served.

The Pennsylvania Cave Survey

The Pennsylvania Cave Survey is one of the oldest. There have been at least four cycles of data collection and publications. The first cycle was the work of Ralph W. Stone in the early 1930s which resulted in a preliminary report of the State Geological Survey in 1930 (G-3 1st Edition) with 29 caves reported and then the better known Stone report in 1932 (G-3 2nd Edition) with 80 caves reported. The second cycle was the intensive field effort, guided by R.W. Stone but with field checking by William Devitt III and Bernard L. Smeltzer, that resulted in NSS Bulletin 15 in 1953. The third and fourth cycles are going on today, the county by county cave surveys coordinated through the MAR and the Pennsylvania Cave Data Base organized and managed by Keith Wheeland.

From its beginning the MAR took on responsibility for the Pennsylvania Cave Survey. Beginning with MAR Bulletin 4 in 1958, the MAR Bulletins have been county cave surveys. Responsibility for exploring and mapping caves, preparing written reports, and drawing together the survey document lies with individuals or grottos. The MAR provides coordination, does the final editing of the Bulletins, provides funds for publishing them, maintains the stockpile of previous Bulletins, and handles sales. To date, there are 20 MAR Bulletins that have been issued (see Publications).

The Pennsylvania Cave Database (PCD)

Unlike the county cave survey which have involved many cavers throughtout the Mid-Appalachian Region, the Pennsylvania Cave Database (PCD) began as a one-man show. At its inception, the database was a computer file using a data processing system devised by Keith Wheeland, which can accept an extensive array of information on cave location, cave type, land owner, geology, and other features. The file was maintained and kept up to date through individual contributions and through careful scruntiny of the various Grotto newsletters.

In 2007, the responsiblities of the the Pennsylvania Cave Database, was officially transferred from Keith Wheeland, creator and administrator of the database, and placed it under the existing Pennsylvania Cave Conservancy (PCC). Today, PCC manages and maintains the cave database through the Pennsylvania Cave Database Committee (PCDC) via a database steward and several county "stewards", which gather and report cave related activity within their county(ies) of responsibility. For more information regarding the Pennsylvania Cave Database, please refer to the Pennsylvania Cave Conservancy (PCC) website.

Note: The Mid-Appalachian Region (MAR) of the NSS, the Pennsylvania Cave Conservancy (PCC), and numerous others would like to thank Keith Wheeland for his generous time, effort, and contribution in creating, and maintaining the cave database since its inception.

As of February 2010, using the criteria established to designate a Pennsylvania cave, the number of caves in PA is currently 1,110 and the total number of references, including "others" (such as mines, fictitious caves, shelters, etc.), in the Pennsylvania Cave Database is 1,609.


*Credit is given to William B. White et. al., for providing the above information which was originally published in the MAR Bulletin 1-4, REPRINT, March 1992, with additions, updates, and corrections by the MAR Webmaster for the online version.

Credit is also given to J. Michael Spencer, editor of the Fall 2003 MAR Field Meet and MAR 50th Anniversary Field Guidebook, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, for providing information on Bernard L. Smeltzer, and to Keith Wheeland for providing the current number of caves and references from the PA Cave Database.

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