Published: Friday, April 28, 2006 12:39 a.m. MDT
PROVO — Spelunkers hoping to explore a popular western Utah County cave will have to crawl through a few hoops first.
The entrance to the Nutty Putty Cave on the west side of Utah Lake soon will be gated and public access restricted, the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration announced Wednesday.
Last week, SITLA agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the Timpanogos Grotto, allowing the local chapter of the National Speleological Society to manage the cave for the "foreseeable future."
Access to the cave will be at the discretion of the Timpanogos Grotto, and only "sufficiently prepared cavers" will be given free permits to enter.
"The permits will make sure (caving) groups are qualified," said Rob Cranney, NSS regional youth group liaison and Timpanogos Grotto trip coordinator. "It will make sure they have the right amount of people, the right gear, that they know what they're doing and that they're not going to damage the cave."
The gate is expected to be installed within the next three weeks.
"This is an attempt to try to avoid closing the cave," said Gary Bagley, SITLA resource specialist. "It's an issue of public safety and resource protection."
SITLA, which owns the land in the area of the Nutty Putty Cave, has been trying since January 2005 to find an interested party to take over management of the cave and be responsible for safety and preservation.
The quest was sparked by a pair of rescues over the Labor Day weekend in 2004, when Utah County emergency-response teams on separate rescues had to pull a Brigham Young University student and an Orem teenager from the cave.
SITLA originally solicited groups including BYU, Utah Valley State College and the Boy Scouts of America to lease the land. Under the proposed lease, the group would have been required to build a gate to control access to the property, maintain the land and carry a $1 million insurance policy.
"We could never come to an agreement with anybody," Bagley said. "I think part of that was their fearfulness to enter into a lease of that type, and they maybe had some fear of the liability associated with it."
Bagley said SITLA was still hopeful that a lease agreement could be reached until August 2005, when four people died in a narrow, underwater tunnel between two caverns on "Y" Mountain.
"It really came to a standstill after that," he said. "Most of those groups that had some interest just totally backed away."
With an estimated 5,000 people visiting the Nutty Putty Cave each year, Bagley said the area "was getting kind of crazy" and needed to be regulated.
"It was kind of haphazard because it was unrestricted access to the public," he said.
Bagley said he believes the agreement with the Timpanogos Grotto, which didn't have to get the insurance policy, will allow properly prepared, trained and equipped spelunkers to continue to access the caves while keeping out novice cavers who potentially could put themselves in danger.
"We're hoping that in the long run this will improve (caving) for those people who go in (the Nutty Putty Cave)," he said. "They'll have a better experience, definitely a safer experience."
A high percentage of people who visit the cave are not prepared, Cranney said. "I've been caving for 16 years," he said, "and I don't know how many times I've seen people in Nutty Putty and thought, 'What are they doing? Put the beer can down.' "
Bagley said response to the planned cave restrictions have been mixed. Some say they don't need a baby sitter to go caving, while others see the need for safety measures "I think over time it will work if people give it a chance," he said.