Management Plan for the Preserve of Great Savannah Cave System’s Lightner Entrance into Historic McClung Cave

Cavers in the waters of the Tufa Trail in Historic McClung Cave. (Photo by Nikki Fox)


The West Virginia Cave Conservancy (WVCC), a non-profit, West Virginia corporation, has purchased approximately 11.62 acres that includes the Lightner Entrance to McClung Cave, which is a part of the Great Savannah Cave System (GSCS) in Greenbrier County, W.Va. This parcel was subdivided from the old Lightner Farm, located on Vago Road, approximately one mile from U.S. Route 219 at Maxwelton, W.Va. Some other parcels have already been sold from this original 300 acre farm. The farm is in a prime development area in the booming Lewisburg, West Virginia., area, and the entire farm has been subdivided for single-family homes.

Access to all of the major cave systems in Greenbrier 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 Historic McClung Cave, and to as many of the other major systems in West Virginia as possible. Historic McClung Cave offers outstanding scientific, educational, and recreational opportunities. WVCC will manage the Lightner Entrance to maximize these opportunities.


Tom Lightner Sr., who had owned the farm for more that 50 years, died in January 2000. He directed in his will that his executor, Tom Lightner, Jr., must sell the farm and distribute the proceeds to the heirs. Accordingly, the farm was subdivided, by survey, into 38 lots, and these lots were offered at auction on September 30, 2000. WVCC representatives attended the auction and offered the highest bid on the parcel that contained the Lightner Entrance, but all bids for all the parcels of the entire farm were rejected. Subsequently, WVCC representatives entered into negotiations with Tom Lightner, Jr. that resulted in the purchase by WVCC of a tract of land that includes the Lightner Entrance.

The Lightner Entrance was discovered in 1985 and was connected into Historic McClung in 1986 via a dig named the Champaign Squeeze. The cave was subsequently closed in 1986 by the owner due to a lost-caver incident. This entrance affords relatively easy access to the southwestern portions of McClung Cave. This area is one of the most remote sections from the historic (main) McClung Cave Entrance.

The entrance contains two drops of 45 and 21 feet that drop into a large formation room. Another 12-foot drop lands into the connection area. From there, the Tufa Trail leads down to the main truck passage of Historic McClung Cave: Freeman Avenue.

The systematic exploration and survey of McClung Cave began in the mid 1950s. By the late 1960s, this project had been adopted by The West Virginia Association for Cave Studies as an on-going project. In the summer of 2019 the Freeman Avenue sump of McClung was dove and connected into Maxwelton Sink Cave’s Sweetwater River, thus the historic dive created the Great Savannah Cave System (GSCS).

The cave is currently being remapped by members of the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies. As of January of 2024, the GCSC is the longest cave in West Virginia at 53.47 miles.

A caver admires a massive column in McClung Cave’s Travertine Avenue. (Photo by Ed McCarthy)

Cave Resources

McClung Cave is listed on the Significant Cave List for length, depth, hydrology, geology, biology, history, and esthetics.

The historic McClung Entrance to Historic McClung Cave has been known since settlement of the area during colonial times. The historic entrance was documented by geologists who were mapping the county geology, and was also recorded by William E. Davies in Caverns of West Virginia.

Historic McClung Cave is one of the longest, most complex of a series of so called “contact cave systems” located in the historic Great Savannah of Greenbrier County. These contact cave systems are known for extensive passage development in the contact zone between the overlying Mississippian Greenbrier Limestone and the underlying Maccrady Shale. To date, over 25 miles of passage have been surveyed in the historic part of the McClung partion of the GSCS.

Historic McClung Cave lies southwest of a major contact cave system: Ludington Cave to the northeast. The GSCS is interrelated, and connection potential exists for both of these systems. A total of five major contact cave systems are developed adjacent to each other in this area, with historic McClung Cave in the center. A total of over 90 miles have been mapped so far in all these systems.

Major stream passages in historic McClung were formed near the Limestone/shale contact, and are cutting down into the underlying red shales, yielding interesting passage morphology. In addition, numerous faults and folds have been documented, and the cave shows interesting passage modifications where these features are encountered.

Hydrologically, historic McClung has several infeeder streams that travel from the surface down-dip to the master trunk stream in Chocolate Avenue. This is the same stream that flows through Ludington Cave from the north. This stream has been dye traced to an eventual resurgence at Davis Spring, approximately 15 miles to the south on the Greenbrier River, via through historic Maxwelton Cave’s Sweetwater River. Historic McClung Cave serves as a major infeeder to the 73-square mile Davis Spring drainage basin.

The cave is highly decorated with speleothems in certain areas. The large flowstone formation near the historic entrance is featured on the cover of The Life of the Cave by Thomas L. Mohr and Charles E. Poulson.

Historic McClung contains several species of bats and invertebrates that are common to the area. One invertebrate is apparently unique to McClung. The cave is not a significant bat hibernaculum. The cave has also produced some interesting paleontological finds that have been documented by researchers.

Surface Resources

The Lightner Entrance is situated in the northeastern corner of the Lightner farm, approximately 2,000 feet from Vago Road. Consequently, WVCC had to acquire approximately 11 acres of land around the Lightner Entrance in order to yield a reasonable subdivision of that corner of the farm without leaving any odd remainder, and had to acquire an approximately 1,700-foot long access road from Vago Road to the 11-acre lot. The purchased access road is not simply a right-of-way, but was purchased fee-simple.

The 11-acre plot has some of the highest ground of the immediate area, and has a beautiful panoramic view. The site offers nice opportunities for day use, such as picnicking. Camping may be a future possibility, if appropriate facilities can be developed.

A caver admires a pristine, white formation in McClung Cave. (Photo by Nikki Fox)

Publicity Policy

WVCC will publicize the Lightner Entrance to Historic McClung 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.

A caver rappels the Ladder Drop in front of a massive thrust fault in the Hillsdale limestone. (Photo by Nikki Fox)

Access Policy

The Lightner Entrance will be maintained in an “open” condition, and will be freely available to all vertically-competent, responsible cavers over the age of 18, regardless of any 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 parking area is established at the end of the access drive from Vago road to the preserve, beyond the property gate next to the informational kiosk. Make sure that the gate is closed at all times as there are cattle on the property.

Property Manager

The Property Manager of the Lightner Entrance to McClung Cave of the Great Savannah Cave System is Ed Swepston. You may contact him at with questions about the cave and preserve.

A caver takes a self portrait after discovering the Glacier Room in Lightner Cave. (Photo by Cliff Lindsay)

A cave in the Broomstick Passage of Historic McClung Cave. (Photo by Nikki Fox)