The tribute below is personal and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the MSS, its officers or board.

According to Dwight Weaver, in 1956, there were fewer than 50 active cavers in Missouri, and only three active caving clubs. Since then, at least 29 caving clubs, or grottos, have been formed and how many active cavers there are is anyone's guess. Some of these clubs have fallen by the wayside in the last 50 years. Some grottos grew out of student activity clubs, to wax and wane as members went through college and graduated. Some have been stalwart NSS affiliates, some have been rather exclusive groups of friends, and some had specialties such as cave rescue, or fellowship, with speleology only a secondary concern. The state has been home to the SSA, a splinter national caving society, and seen the development of the MCKC--a sister organization with a cave conservation focus.

Through it all, the MSS has been the one constant on the state caving scene.

Frank Dahlgren, Dr. Oz Hawksley and Jerry Vineyard
Photo by Dwight Weaver, at the 1990 Year of the Caves Celebration

Founded by Dr. Oscar Hawksley, Frank Dahlgren, and Jerry Vineyard, the Survey received semi-official standing in 1956 as a project of a chapter of the National Speleological Society. Its organization was coincident with the rise of organized caving activities in the state, and with publication of Bretz's "Caves of Missouri".

The Missouri Speleological Survey provides a common ground to coordinate the efforts of various caving groups in the state. It encourages and initiates constructive activities such as mapping and description of caves and cave science projects, and serves as a repository for cave data gathered by individuals and caving clubs. The mission of the Survey is to locate, record, explore, conserve, and study the caves of Missouri.

Missouri has always been home to independent cavers as well, people who by inclination or their rural location, never join caving groups. These people are welcome also to work with the MSS as "cooperators"; through sharing their information, they obtain access to that of the MSS. This is in keeping with the basic idea behind the MSS--a central repository for all information related to caves, accessible to responsible people involved with or interested in Missouri caves and karst.

Translating lofty aspirations into practical results takes lots of hard work, compromise, and the ability for people work together for the common good. While the MSS has not been without occasional conflict and necessary re-imagining of its purpose by succeeding generations, the organization has succeeded remarkably well in getting cavers and agencies with disparate aims to work together toward its goal. In short, it is rarely boring for long, as new techniques, technology and faces come and go.

Despite having no 'mission' for fellowship, the real strength of the MSS is its people--the thousand names which have appeared on cave maps, reports, offices, committee appointments and "gopher" charts over the last 50 years. Without the dedicated volunteers donating their time, energy, gas, paper and ideas to the organization it simply would not exist. Being Missourians, each one, from our honorary members to the newest curious novice, is as unique as the Ozark caves and karst they love, and it is from their diversity that the organization gains its strength.

You are invited to discover the MSS for yourself: the Missouri Speleological Survey.

2003 Jo Schaper.

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