Management Plan for the Richard J. Bantel Cave Preserve of Wild Cat Entrance to the Culverson Creek Cave System

A caver stands in the main underground stream in the Culverson Creek Cave System. (Photo by Phil Lucas)


The West Virginia Cave Conservancy (WVCC), a 501-3C non-profit West Virginia Corporation, acquired the Wild Cat Entrance of Culverson Creek Cave System (CCCS), located in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. The Wild Cat Entrance is located near Unus approximately four miles west of the town of Frankford.

Richard J. Bantel donated an acre parcel to the WVCC, fee simple, in 2008. The parcel is roughly square, with the cave entrance located at the base of large cliff on the north side of the property. The parcel is basically a deep sinkhole on a hillside. In addition to the fee simple parcel, the donation also included the right to travel through any cave passage accessible from the cave entrance that extends under the grantors remaining land. A significant portion of the cave does extend under the grantors remaining land. A 20-foot wide surface easement was also granted from County Road 17 (Williamsburg Road) to the property.


Culverson Creek Cave was initially explored in the late 1950s by entering the main Culverson entrance where the water sinks. Several miles were explored to a massive log jam. During the 1960s McLaughlin-Unus cave was explored and mapped also with several miles charted. On a trip to the far reaches of this cave, light was seen through a breakdown choke and cavers were able to dig their way out to the surface. A dead “wild” white cat was found in the dug out entrance sink, hence the name of the entrance Wild Cat. In this same breakdown another dig was undertaken in extremely unstable rock which lead to the Wild Cat connection passage that enabled a connection to the main Culverson Creek side. In 2006, the left side of the Wild Cat connection was excavated from the surface, bypassing the scary connection.

Subsequent trips to other caves in the area, Hinkle-Unus and Fullers caves namely eventually led to connections that formed the Culverson Creek System. In the mid 1970s a resurvey was undertaken by members of the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies (WVACS). This survey netted many more miles of cave with the map finally being drawn in 2007. A West Virginia Speleological Survey Bulletin #20, The Caves of the Culverson Creek Basin, was published in 2018 detailing the history, exploration and hydrology of CCCS.

In 2016, a massive flash flood inundated the Unus area. CCCS was almost completely underwater. The Wild Cat Entrance was ponded under 20 feet of water and water was three feet of water up on the kiosk. The force of the water blew out the entrance pipe on the left side of the Wild Cat Entrance.

The WVCC acquired the Richard J. Bantel Cave Preserve as a gift from the previous owner, Richard “Rick” Bantel. In November of 2020, Rick Bantel sold the farm that surrounds the preserve to Phillip Tuckwiller.

The famous Culverson Log Jam. (Photo by Phil Lucas)

Cave Resources

Culverson Creek System has a total surveyed length of 21 miles and a depth of 300 feet. CCCS is listed on The West Virginia Speleological Survey’s West Virginia Significant Cave List for history,

recreation, aesthetics, geology, biology, hydrology, paleontology. length and depth.

The Wild Cat Entrance provides access to the entire cave system. There are two openings side by side. The left leads to the main Culverson Creek section where the majority of the cave is. The right side leads into the McLaughlin-Unus section that has about three miles of passage. There are eight other entrances to the system located on neighboring private property.

CCCS is the premier water cave in West Virginia and is the main drainage for a surface basin of over 42 square miles. The passages range from large trunk to small crawls and vertical drops. The cave is very susceptible to flash flooding so watching the weather is imperative.

Surface Resources

Although this preserve is relatively small, there are some nice features on the surface. Most of the land surrounds a large sinkhole, a large cliff face marks the northern boundary. The cliff that contains the Wild Cat Entrance is picturesque. During summer, a blast of cold air emanates from the entrances.

The surface resources will be maintained in as near natural state as possible, based upon the needs of WVCC.

Cavers admire an arched ceiling in a large section of the Culverson. (Photo by Phil Lucas)

Publicity Policy

WVCC will publicize the Wild Cat Entrance to the Culverson Creek System only to the extent necessary to accomplish WVCC’s 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 a 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 are permitted.
2. All trash and human waste must be packed out.
3. ATVs, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles are not permitted on the property.
4. No hunting will be allowed on the property. No fireworks or firearms will be allowed on the property.
5. No commercial activity, including cave-for-pay, will be allowed on the property.
6. Visitors’ conduct should conform to National Speleological Society conservation guidelines, and to NSS Safety and Techniques Committee recommendations.
7. Visitors are expected to comply with all applicable state and federal laws.
8. An informational kiosk/sign has been installed near the entrance.
9. All fence gates are to be left as found. There may be livestock in the fields.
10. Visitors are expected to comply with all applicable state and federal laws.

A caver stands in a tube near the Wild Cat Entrance to Culverson. (Photo by Ed McCarthy)

Access Policy

The Wild Cat Entrance to the Culverson Creek System will be maintained in an “open” condition to visitors, regardless of any organizational affiliation. No release form is required for visitation. No cave-for-pay, or any other activity “for pay” is allowed.

If there is a chance of heavy rain use extreme caution, the cave is very dangerous in high water and flooding conditions.


Parking is not available on the preserve and is only available on the small lot adjacent to the Williamsburg/Carroll Hill Road intersection where the walking right of way begins on the other side of the pasture gate. Parking (recommended) is also available in front of the red barn on Bill Balfour’s property across the road.

Preserve Manager

The Preserve Manager of the Richard J. Bantel Preserve is Bill Balfour. You may contact him at for information about the Culverson Creek Cave System such as directions and most important of all: local weather conditions.

A large chalk stone wedged in a passage of Culverson. (Photo by Phil Lucas)

Cavers in the Wild Cat Entrance of the CCCS. (Photo by Phil Lucas)