Management Plan for Rapps Cave

A caver in a larger scalloped passage in Rapps Cave. (Photo by Ryan Maurer)


The West Virginia Cave Conservancy (WVCC), a non-profit, West Virginia corporation, manages and protects the property, in which Rapps Cave includes, for the Ratliff family in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. The property that Rapps Cave is located in is a shallow sink on the west side of a hollow on the north side of Buckeye Creek Road It is protected with a tall chain-link fence, which has a lock, and the cave itself is also gated.

Access to all 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 Rapps Cave, and to as many of the other major systems in West Virginia as possible. Rapps Cave offers outstanding scientific and educational opportunities. WVCC will manage the Rapps Cave to maximize these opportunities.


Rapps Cave is an extremely important site because of the range of activities that have taken place there during prehistory, and as a site of preserved Native American petroglyphs. The site is under the protection of the West Virginia Cave Conservancy. The Ratliff family who own the site also recognize its importance and protect it.

Professional and amateur archaeologists and members of the caving community have either known about or expressed interest in the deposits in Rapps Cave since at least the late 1960s, although there has been no evidence of any formal excavations. In a 1968 letter Dr. John Rutherford, then president of the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies (WVACS), wrote to Don Dragoo of the Carnegie Mellon Museum, stating that the petroglyphs had been photographed by Charles M. Schwab. Rutherford credited Schwab as discovering the petroglyphs. Rutherford also collected some pottery from the surface of the vestibule at around this time. Rutherford indicated in his 1968 letter that he had informed the West Virginia State archaeologist of the site, but there is no record of any formal response, visits or research resulting from this correspondence.

Rapps Cave had been extensively impacted by non-professional collecting and digging in the early 1970s. Local tradition holds that many artifacts and at least one skeleton were removed from the cave at this time. Andrew Schaer, a friend of the family who collected the materials from Rapps Cave, contacted Dr. Robert Maslowski, and provided copies of photographs of pottery and other artifacts taken from Rapps Cave stored in the family home. It was planned that these photographs be curated, along with project field records, at the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

In the not- too-distant past Rapps Cave had been used as a party cave. Since it has a fairly easy-to-navigate entrance and a large open vestibule, it provided an ideal spot for unofficial (and typically without permission) social gatherings. Although such casual use did not typically involve intentional vandalism to the cave or the archaeological deposits, repeated visits, including the building of campfires, have damaged the sensitive deposits.

In 1999 the WVCC entered into a 5-year lease to protect Rapps Cave. One of our first goals was to erect 4-foot tall chain-link fence around the cave opening. The Conservancy also funded preliminary test excavations inside the cave.

Prismatic jointing in the Union Limestone inside Rapps Cave. (Photo by Ryan Maurer)

Cave Resources

This cave is on the West Virginia Significant Cave List for archeology, aesthetics, paleontology, and length.

Rapps Cave has been connected via a voice connection with Buckeye Creek Cave. The Buckeye Creek-Rapps Cave System can most easily be described as a stream cave where the water flows into the Buckeye Creek Cave entrance and, several thousand feet downstream, exits near the Spencer Cave Entrance. Above the downstream sections of the stream passage are four paleo stream levels. Above the upstream section is Rapps Cave. The cave is formed in the Union Limestone, of the Greenbrier Group.

In 2006 the Report of Archaeological Investigations at Rapps Cave, West Virginia (edited by Kim A. McBride, Ph.D. and Sarah C. Sherwood, Ph.D.) published the 1999-2001 archaeological investigations of the cave. The excavation project project was administered by Robert (Bob) Handley.

To date, Rapps Cave is among the most significant caves containing prehistoric cultural resources to be documented in West Virginia. The significance of the artwork documented inside the cave entrance cannot be understated. This represents one of the northern most examples of prehistoric petroglyphs executed within a cave and the only one documented in West Virginia.

There have been a total of 31 individual images cataloged in Rapps Cave. All of the Rapps Cave images are petroglyphs, images engraved directly into the flowstone covering the cave walls and ceiling. Numerous ceramic shards are dated to the regional Late Woodland, between 1,200 and 1,400 A.D. A large number of stone artifacts including chipping debris, cobble hammer stones in some abundance, and fire-cracked rocks are incorporated into the cave vestibule sediments. Animal bones, gastropod shells, and great quantities of carbonized vegetation litter the cave floor and looters tailings. One loose tooth and 51 human bones were identified during the archaeological investigations and analysis.

Surface Resources

Rapps Cave contains evidence for prehistoric habitation within and outside the entrance as well as prehistoric exploration within the deep cave passages.

A gypsum formation in Rapps Cave. (Photo by Ryan Maurer)

Publicity Policy

WVCC will publicize the Rapps 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.

Rapps Cave passage. (Photo by Ed McCarthy)

Access Policy

The cave is gated. The Rapps Cave Preserve shall be maintained in an “open” condition for science and education only, 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.


Parking space is only available at WVACS, where you need to be sponsored by a current member who has keys to access the Fieldstation.

Cave Manager

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

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

Rapps Cave is known for it’s historical significance. (Photo by Ed McCarthy)