JMU and Grottoes working to make Grand Caverns a geoheritage site

Formation at Grand Caverns in Grottoes
Formation at Grand Caverns in Grottoes(WHSV)
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 11:03 AM EDT
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GROTTOES, Va. (WHSV) - What began as a simple research partnership between James Madison University and the Town of Grottoes has now grown into a project drawing national attention.

“It started like a simple collaboration and started getting more form. JMU offered to make a three-dimensional map of the commercial part of Grand Caverns,” Assistant Professor of Geology and Environmental Science Dr. Angel Garcia said.

Through LiDAR or ‘Light detecting and ranging technology, Dr. Garcia and his students completed the map and also opened the door for another project -- working to establish Grand Caverns as a geoheritage site.

“Geoheritage uses the geological aspect as a central theme to tie up different pieces of heritage with the purpose of showcasing what are those things together,” Dr. Garcia explained.

The heritage at Grand Caverns is rich. At over 200 years old, it is the oldest operating show cavern in the United States, and even contains signatures on its walls dating back to the Civil War.

Combining scientific finds like rock formations and the rich history of Grand Caverns is a small part of the process of becoming an official geoheritage site.

According to Grottoes’ Parks and Tourism Director, the process to become a geoheritage site under the guidelines from the National Park Service can take about five years. It involves gathering data and statements of the caverns’ significance and rarity on state, local, and national levels.

“That puts us on a much bigger stage and that actually becomes a powerful economic driver for the entire area. It matters a lot to the town of Grottoes, matters certainly to Grand Caverns. But this starts to reach into Augusta County, and Rockingham County, and the Shenandoah Valley,” Grottoes Parks and Tourism Director Austin Shank said.

On top of the economic draw, both Dr. Garcia and Shank agree that the educational opportunities for all ages in the caverns and the Valley as a whole are plenty.

“Professional researchers, educators, it (the caverns) will bring that part as a home for that interaction to happen,” Dr. Garcia said.

“It transformed and met with the times and became electrified and so we’re continuing that legacy as we move forward and it’s a big driver,” Shank said.

Grand Caverns is open for tours by reservation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 1st to October 31st. Between November 1st and March 31st, the caverns are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You can find more information here.