Fate of Popular Cave Still in Limbo
Monday, 28 November 2005 - N.S. NOKKENTVED - Daily Herald
Indecisive state officials have put up signs, warning would-be spelunkers of the danger that lurks below, while they consider whether to seal the entrance to the popular Nutty Putty Cave.
Last year, BYU student David Crowther, from West Virginia, spent more than seven hours stuck in a narrow passage in the west Utah County cave.
His was the second of two rescues in 2004. After rescuers chipped away the rock to free him, he was bruised and in pain but otherwise not seriously injured.
No one has died in Nutty Putty Cave, but about twice a year someone gets stuck and has to be rescued. State officials, worried that someone could be seriously injured or killed in the cave, have considered closing it or leasing it to an organization willing to manage it.
But they have taken no action yet. "We are still weighing our options," said Gary Bagley, resource specialist with the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Those options include sealing the cave, controlling access with a gate or signing a lease with a group or organization that would manage it.
The cave is dark, warm, remote and accessible enough to lull most adventure-seekers into a false sense of security. A week before Crowther got in trouble, Brock Clark, 16 of Orem, spent the night stuck upside-down in the cave while rescuers tried to free him. He emerged tired, weak and unable to walk by himself. But he survived the ordeal.
Most visitors looking for an easy adventure are ill-equipped and inexperienced, with shorts and T-shirts and without helmets. They have sense enough to bring a flashlight or headlamp, but few wear a helmet or proper clothes or shoes, said Jon Jasper of the Timpanogos Grotto Club.
Following two rescues last year, the Utah County Sheriff's Office brought concerns to the state agency, Bagley said. His agency would like to keep the cave open and still avoid problems. Cave deaths are rare in Utah, with only three before this summer when four people drowned in a cave on Y Mountain east of Provo.
That incident may have raised concerns about liability and made outdoor recreation groups, such as at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College, reluctant to assume responsibility for managing the cave, Jasper said.
True enough -- though the two groups had talked with state officials about a lease agreement, the agency has no valid lease applications, Bagley said. Simply ignoring the cave is an option but a bad one, Jasper said.
Because of the growing popularity, the cave needs management and some way to regulate use, and to ensure visitors are properly equipped and understand safety and sanitation issues.
Nutty Putty gets about twice as many visitors as any other Utah cave, Jasper said. He estimates about 4,000 visitors a year, but only about 1 percent are properly equipped.
The Trust Lands Administration, charged with earning money from the lands it manages, has little interest in operating the cave. But there is ample public interest in the cave as a recreational and educational resource, Jasper said.
"I would love to see it stay open," he said.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page D1.
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