Radford High School science teacher, nature enthusiast and alfresco aficionado Frank Taylor took a shot in the dark Thursday evening as he embarked on his second summer lecture of the season at Wildwood Park’s outdoor classroom.
He surmised a significant crowd, as he opened a window (technically an iron grate, but still) into the park’s most well-guarded secret — literally guarded, an iron grate has been welded into place to prevent trespassers, vandals and unauthorized entry: Adams Cave.
A significant crowd would have measured a dozen eager underground enthusiasts — he was not entirely prepared for the multitude of Radfordians that couldn’t resist the rare chance to venture into the ancient bowels of the city.
“I don’t think I brought enough helmets,” Taylor quipped, as what started as a meager gathering blossomed like the park’s colorful fair-weather flora in full regalia. Despite the rainshowers that had periodically soaked the city throughout the day, citizens arrived in droves.
Taylor led a group of over a hundred would-be suburban spelunkers through the paved Wildwood base, across a narrow wooden footbridge, and up a path cut into the hillside. At the trail’s apex lies the entrance to Adams Cave, once a small saltpetre mine and — rumor has it — before that, a Native American burial ground.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time — ever since I first came to Radford — to get into this cave,” longtime resident Emily Leighton was overheard saying, as she and several members of her family ascended the steep, mud-covered trail together.
Leighton was not alone in her assessment.
Children clinging to bicycle helmets and carrying tiny flashlights lined up beside adults of all ages and made the formidable trek to the cave’s entrance. Once there, they waited patiently, some for almost two hours, to take their turn inside the cavern and its many dark, narrow chambers.
According to Taylor’s informational lecture prior to embarking, the cave, primarily comprised of limestone, extends just short of 140 feet into the hillside and drops around 30 feet, and is estimated to have formed within the last million years by groundwater dissolving rock along fractures.
The iron grate was put in place in 1994 by the American Cave Conservation Association as a means to prevent further damage, as graffiti carved into sections of the rock are plainly visible from before the entrance was barred.
“It’s a fifteen-hundred-dollar fine for littering, carving or spraying graffiti or damaging the cave,” Taylor said. “I once took a biology class out here — we cleaned it up, took out all kinds of trash, cleaned off as much graffiti as we could.
“I came out with a different class two weeks later, and the place was trashed. There was garbage everywhere. Thus the iron gate.”
Nikohl Miller, a Radford University student and one of the volunteers stationed alongside one of the cave’s many chamber access points, helped mark the path through the dark for each of the explorers.
“I love it in here. There’s so much history — and to think it’s right in our backyard,” Miller said.
RHS rising junior Kevin Reuwer, who was introduced to Taylor’s out-of-classroom educational style during his sophomore Biology 1 course last year.
“I’d always sort of heard about the cave — I heard storied of kids going inside in the old days, which is why it’s blocked off, I guess,” Reuwer remarked. “This is definitely the coolest thing about my summer so far.”
As for the park’s summer education series, Reuwer’s all in.
“This is great — I’ll come to the next one for sure. Where else to you get to do things like this?” he said.
By Aaron Atkins