Management Plan for Donaldson Cave Preserve

A room in Donaldson Cave. (Photo by Bob Bennett)


The West Virginia Cave Conservancy (WVCC), a non-profit, West Virginia corporation, was donated by WV Hunter LLC. The parcel contains 0.07 acres on the southerly side of WV Secondary Route 2/4, and 0.24 acres on the southerly side said Route that includes the entrance of Donaldson Cave in Berkeley County, West Virginia. The parcel is near the intersection of Little Georgetown Road and B&O Overpass Road. The land containing the cave was destined to be subdivided into residential building lots in the late 1990s, located about three miles northeast of Hedgesville in the eastern panhandle.

Access to all the major cave systems in Berkeley County are potentially threatened by the rapid population growth and development of the area, and by increasing liability concerns. WVCC has a goal of maintaining access to Donaldson Cave, and to as many of the other major systems in West Virginia as possible. Donaldson Cave offers outstanding scientific, educational, and recreational opportunities. WVCC will manage the Donaldson Cave to maximize these opportunities.


Through the efforts of several cavers, especially Dave West, the property owner decided to donate the entrance and a small parcel of land around it to the Conservancy on Sept. 25, 2003. One stipulation was that the cave was to be gated, primarily to keep children out after the expected housing development was built near the cave. The gate was constructed in 2003 and is designed to allow bats to easily get through, although only a few bats have ever been noted in the cave.

The cave was used as a dump in the past due to many small pieces of broken glass and other debris in the entrance room. One old artifact is a metal barrel that was dug out of the mud in the bottom of the cave after the cave was gated. The barrel won’t fit through the gate and attempts to smash it into a smaller profile have proven unsuccessful.

Little is known about the discovery and early exploration of Donaldson Cave.

A caver in a crawlway of Donaldson Cave. (Photo by David Smallwood)

Cave Resources

Donaldson Cave is a small, mostly horizontal cave, with 761 feet of passage and a depth of 45 feet developed in the Elbrook Limestone. The cave will not challenge an experienced caver, but it is an excellent introductory cave because it contains enough novice challenges to be interesting, but not enough to be daunting.

The entrance is in a shallow sink about 8-feet deep. The cave’s gate is clearly visible as you come to the sink. In the cave, the passage goes into a downward-sloping room about 20 feet wide, 50 feet long, and 8 to 10 feet high. A climb-down on the left side of room the leads to a side passage with some formations, where a hand-line may be helpful.

At the bottom of the entrance room, a passage leads to the right (north) and comes into another room after about 50 feet. The lower part of this connecting passage frequently has water in it and is often flooded during wet weather. The room it leads to slopes up to the right (east) and there is an opening at the top that leads down to a passage with a few formations. At the bottom of the climb-down into the passage there is a rather small route over breakdown that leads over a large rock into a passage that goes south and quickly leads back to the north side of the entrance room just inside the gate.

There is no active hydrology in the cave, as there is no stream in the cave. However, the cave sometimes is flooded where crystal-clear water is pooled. It appears that the local water table is rather high and the water level in the cave is congruent with the water table.

The cave is not a significant bat hibernaculum.

Surface Resources

Donaldson Cave is situated in the middle of a housing development with homes to the south and one to the north of the property.

Historic signatures cover a rock in Donaldson Cave. (Photo by Bob Bennett)

Publicity Policy

WVCC will publicize the Donaldson Cave Preserve only to the extent necessary to accomplish our mission goals. Publicity of details and location information will only be available within the established caving community. Publicity available to the general public will be limited to information needed to promote our educational and scientific goals. In the event of a rescue at the cave, WVCC will make every effort to minimize media coverage, especially any location information.


The Board of Directors has established a management committee to implement and monitor this management plan. The Board will be responsible for any plan changes. The management committee will report to the Board on the status of the preserve, with any recommendations for changes to this plan.

The management committee will be responsible for monitoring the following rules controlling use of the preserve:

1. No camping or fires will be permitted at this time.
2. All trash and human waste must be packed out.
3. ATV’s, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles are not permitted on the preserve.
4. Collection of rocks, flora, fauna, etc. on the surface is prohibited. Any collection underground must be done in accordance with West Virginia laws, which require a permit from the state, based in part on permission from the Board. The Board will approve such requests on an individual basis, based on scientific need.
5. No placement of permanent bolts or anchors is allowed. No other defacement of the cave is allowed.
6. Parking is allowed only in designated areas.
7. No hunting will be allowed on the property. No fireworks or firearms will be allowed on the property.
8. No commercial activity, including cave-for-pay, will be allowed on the property.
9. Visitors’ conduct should conform to National Speleological Society conservation guidelines, and to NSS Safety and Techniques Committee recommendations.
10. Visitors are expected to comply with all applicable state and federal laws.

Donaldson is a great introduction to caving for new and young cavers. (Photo by Jerry Bowen)

Access Policy

The cave is gated. The Donaldson Cave Preserve shall be maintained in an “open” condition, and will be freely available to all responsible cavers, regardless of organizational affiliation. If, in the future, additional information indicates that some resource needs some additional level of protection, whatever minimal controls needed to protect the resource may be instituted.

In general, access to the cave will be maintained as open as practical. No release form is required for visitation. No cave-for-pay, or any other activity “for pay” is allowed.

The WVCC reserves the right to deny access to any individual or group who, in its sole estimation, presents an actual or potential threat to the preservation of the resource, and may employ any and all remedies available to landowners with respect to trespass.

The lock on the cave gate is rather awkward to access. Best to lie on your back and illuminate the four numbers on the lock’s dial. Set the numbers to the combination and juggle it to open it. Change the numbers and push the clock closed to relock it. Lock yourself in the cave while you are there and be sure to relock the gate when you leave.

The gate combination is changed every couple of months or more frequently if warranted.


There is no parking space on the small parcel that contains the cave. The best parking option is to park next to the small cemetery at the intersection of Little Georgetown Road and B&O Overpass Road. It’s only a few hundred feet to the cave entrance from there.

Property Manager

The Property Manager of Donaldson Cave Preserve is Bob Bennett. You may contact him at for information about the preserve such as, permission, gate combo and directions.

The Property Manager requests for the following information for visitation:

1. Date of the trip
2. Time of the trip
3. Name of person requesting/leading the trip
4. NSS number (if available)
5. Group name (caving group, friends, family, other affiliations, etc.)
6. Cell phone number
7. Email address
8. Home address
9. Number of people on trip

Permission to enter the cave is granted by the discretion of the Property Manager.

The entrance to Donaldson Cave is gated. (Photo by Bob Bennett)

Donaldson Cave can accommodate older cavers as well. (Photo by Bob Bennett)