THE FORMATION OF AN IDEA:
THE CAVE DIVING MUSEUM & LIBRARY
As a member of a team of cave divers working to explore and map the underwater caves for the Suwannee River Park, I realized that we were dealing with the time-consuming problem of rebuilding the wheel from scratch as we slowly accumulated information for the DEP. We found as we worked to piece together our survey data and data from past explorations that much of our work to date had already been done by other divers.
In the eight months we could have spent expanding our knowledge of the caves beneath Suwannee River Park, we spent much time replicating databases and researching information that had already been compiled. Our only solace was that we had the privilege of providing the DEP proof that the second longest cave in the United States emptied within the boundary of the park. In our endeavors, we were also able to verify that seven other cave systems flow beneath the park.
To date we still have immense difficulty in obtaining data on the caves and frequently find that we have to re-survey and re-document work that has already been done by divers over thirty years ago. This data exists in the private libraries of agencies and individuals who do not care to share that information and in some cases are not aware that it is even in their possession.
This is knowledge that can and will be used by the State of Florida for decisions on the use and protection of the caves that flow beneath this unusual park. Sadly, because much of the exploration that has gone on before has not been available for study, the original explorer’s names will not appear on the maps that are being drafted and the line they laid so long ago in the spirit of exploration will not be credited to them because we simply do not have that information.
I came to understand that many of the “old time” cave explorers have become isolated from the majority of mainstream cave divers because they still believe that silence can protect caves. However, the world we live in today has made that belief impractical. The greatest change was the dawning of the information age. We now have the internet, global satellite maps, GPS locations and web sites that give out data on the caves we dive. A few caves that are still hidden are now in immediate danger of being lost forever due to the rampant development in Florida; already more than a few have been lost. The battle to protect some of these precious natural resources continues today. The protection of caves depends on knowledge being made available to people who are working to expand our knowledge as well as to cave divers who want to learn more about this underwater wonderland. The sharing of research, exploration and survey data along with the many anecdotes surrounding these ventures is the only way to truly protect them. Sadly for us what some of these divers have found and surveyed will be lost when they die.
I have had the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with some of the icons of cave diving. I have listened to their stories about how they invented the gear we dive with today and how they discovered and explored the caves in which we dive. I wanted to share this valuable experience with others. I posted this thought on the Cave Diver’s Forum and an exceptional thing happened. A few of the older divers started sharing their stories. I also found that others, like Bill Oigarden and Kelly Jessup, were also working to find and save these stories. There was an overwhelming response to this post and a great interest in learning and hearing more.
I really feel that much of what I enjoyed about learning to cave dive is missed in the mass production of new cave divers. There is simply not enough mentoring and time to pass the stories and legends on to new divers. Our lives are too hurried now, and current cave diving training, although technically excellent, is lacking in this area. Many of the younger and newer cave instructors do not know much of our cave diving history except what they have found in the existing books. Knowledge of these stories often explains why we do things the way we do, how our safety rules evolved, and how divers handled unusual or exceptional circumstances.
When Kelly, Bill, and I started discussing these ideas we found that there was no central location for the history of cave diving. There was no place for the stories to be collected and passed onto others. From these conversations came the birth of the Cave Diving Museum and Library. A few like-minded cave divers realized that the preservation and sharing of what we already knew about caves and cave diving has unexpected value. Some of my close friends and I decided it was time that something be done before too much data was lost and some of the knowledge of the older divers are lost to us forever. We realized very quickly that this could not be an effort of any one diving agency or one person. The creation of the independent Cave Diving Museum and Library had to be about all cave divers and the need to record the evolution of our diving equipment, data, and discovery of cave diving without bias. We also came to realize that ongoing documentation would be needed, so what we are doing today can be accessed tomorrow.
The task we see ahead of us is, to say the least, daunting. We have to pry, buy, beg and borrow every bit of gear and data that we can find. It all needs to be documented, duplicated, and cataloged. We have an entire new area of documentation and there is so much to do!
Our goals include cataloging all the data for researchers. We also hope to have online access, although this will take longer. We will preserve and copy all data, maps, books, etc., and store the copies/originals in a safe place. We will display those of interest and hold some in trust.
The museum will display the equipment, showing the evolution, and the focus will be on the improved safety. Educational displays on cave diving will also be included.
This year we plan an oral history project on early cave diving and spring exploration. We want to save as many of the stories that are told by the older divers while we can. We are fortunate to have two professional photographer/video documentation experts who are willing to take on this challenge for us. Our first video is in process of being taped and will be available soon.
The building we have rented near the court house in High Springs is ready for us to move into. Entrance will be free of charge and operating costs will be sustained by donations and sales from the gift shop. We are in the process of gathering the equipment that has been donated to us and are working on cataloguing and the displays. Every third Saturday night of the month we plan to have free movies on caves and cave diving. The movies will be from around the world, and everyone in the community is welcome to attend. It should be a lot of fun, educational and an excellent place for all of us to network.
We are very excited and hope you can join us in this effort.