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By Jeff Martin
I was having a conversation with an acquaintance just recently and he was talking about his outdoor adventures here in Western New York throughout his life ó starting with childhood and, now, as an adult.
He talked about many of the things a person would expect: hiking trails in Erie County, bird watching sites in Little Valley and Allegany State Park and camping spots. I must admit I wasnít listening too intently because he was wearing a baseball cap backwards and his jeans were baggy.
Then he started talking about caves.
ìThereís a ton of caves in this part of the state,î he said. ìMost people donít know anything about. Iíve been finding them for a long time.î
Now he had my attention. Caves?
Iíd explored a few while living in Missouri, specifically Kansas City. Once the geographical site of a prehistoric ocean, the geography now in Western Missouri and Kansas is but an ancient ocean floor of limestone, a porous rock even industries use for subterranean storage facilities. One park I visited regularly had several caves ó not deep, mind you, but deep enough to hide stashes of booty. Jesse James, a Missouri native, used to hide his stashes of booty in caves and limestone outcroppings.
So I asked this guy, who I will name Ben, about what kind of caves people in the Southern Tier can expect to find if they look hard enough.
He was quiet for a moment and said, ìWe found a good one just down from Scoby Dam.î
For those of you unfamiliar with Scoby Dam, itís located just outside Springville on Old 219. If youíre traveling north on Route 219 and cross the bridge spanning Cattaraugus Creek, the road leading to the dam is to the left. Thereís a parking lot at the bottom of the hill. Park there, Ben said, and walk up the path, toward the bridge you just crossed, and to your left thereís a path.
ìWe cleared away a path last summer,î he said. ìIt may not be there anymore.î
In Benís eyes, Springville is sitting above a network of caves. The cave at Scoby Dam is just one entrance point among many, though he cautioned that after about a quarter of a mile inside the cave the terrain gets challenging and pools of water are deep.
Since the weather has been uncooperative and opportunities for exploration so far this year have been slim to none, I did some research. One of my favorite sites is Frank Broughtonís digital photography website about Zoar Valley, a place that quickly became, upon my moving here last August, a personal obsession. On the page is a list of various sites in the Zoar Valley area. One notation is called Valentine Cave, though I was disappointed to see that information about the cave is forthcoming.
I called the New York Department of Parks and Recreation and asked them. Truthfully they were a bit confused as to where I had heard such a thing. A representative in the Allegany Regional Office said she didnít know of any ìcaves,î though she had heard of bear caves, or narrow spaces between boulders. And of course she mentioned Little Rock City, an area between Salamanca and Ellicottville described as full of ìrock cities,î or flat-top boulders that hikers can perch upon or walk between.
I called the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and asked for a geologist on staff. I told her what I was looking for and she was intrigued. Her name was Lynette.
ìIíve never heard of anything like that, but I can have someone call you about it,î she said.
Because time is tight this week, Iíll have to get back to you, our readers. In the meantime, if any of you have information about caves or little-known hot spots in the area, drop me an email and let me know. Iíll report on them periodically.
(You can contact Jeff Martin at email@example.com.)