Sheriff's Office investigates vandalism at Crystal Caverns
Conservancy identifies damage to 70 dripped stone formations
Missouri Caves & Karst Conservancy has offered a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the break-in and vandalism of Crystal Caverns in Cassville.
"How many cities have a real nice cave? Not many," said Jonathan Beard, vice president of the conservancy and assistant manager of the cave. "This is a 2,000-foot cave right on the outskirts of a town, and we're hoping people will respect our attempts to conserve the resource of future generations."
Beard, who was previously in the cave around November, reported the incident to the Barry County Sheriff's Office on Feb. 13. The break-in and acts of vandalism occurred sometime in those three to four months. The cave's entrance door was damaged after someone pried it open.
"I just know this cave well enough to know what used to be here and what is not here today," he said. "The most significant damage was done in the Queen's Attic."
Someone broke off and damaged at least 30 formations, which were mainly draperies, in that part of the cave, Beard said. He pointed out saw marks next to one of the formations and muddy hand prints that stained a drapery.
"You can even see where they struck formations with a hammer or a rock," he said.
The conservancy recognized at least 40 other damaged dripped-stoned formations throughout the cave, Beard said. Someone also damaged or stole several aragonite crystals, which are extremely delicate.
"The aragonite crystals look like frostwork," he said. "What they did was they literally would break a chunk of the bedrock away, so they could take the crystals with them."
Out of the Aragonite Passage, the conservancy estimated about 30-40 percent of the crystals were taken or damaged, Beard said.
"We found two alcoholic beverage cans and a cigarette butt," he said. "And one of them brought a dog in, and the dog pooped in the cave, which is a foreign substance that the cave should not have. Think of breaking an entering into a cave as the same as breaking and entering into your house. This belongs to somebody who owns the land."
Crystal Caverns is on private property owned by the McFarland family, Beard said. The conservancy leases the cave property and associates directly with Cindy Boese, of Tulsa, Okla., who represents the McFarland family. She is the daughter of the late John McFarland, with whom the conservancy originally negotiated the lease in 1997.
"This just makes me sad," he said. "I'm not the kind of guy who gets angry. I just get really sad. I do a lot of cave restoration. I can glue back formations. I can get rid of graffiti. I can get mud off of formations. I can clean up trash, but there is so much that you can do without spending thousands of dollars on high tech whatever. Even then, you may not be able do anything.
"We have a caver's creed: Take nothing but pictures, leave no trace of your visit and kill nothing but time. If people can do that, then caves can be appreciated by future generations or an indefinite amount of time."
Future visitors will not be able to appreciate the Queen's Attic the way it used to be, Beard said. They will see broken tips and scattered pieces instead of the formations in their entirety.
"With permission, we are happy to arrange a time which we can show somebody the cave as long as our schedules can allow for it," he said. "It's not like its closed."
He and Bill Heim, primary manager at the cave and conservancy board member, manage several other caves, said Beard, who lives in Springfield.
"I manage 10 caves," he said. "I can only get around so often. If we had a local manager, whether it be a high school teacher, a scout leader or some other civic group help manage the cave, that would be great. It would give us a little more of a hand up on the vandals."
For about four years, Ben Reuter, a Cassville High School science teacher, said he has taken his students down into the cave about three times a year in the spring.
"This is such a neat cave because there is not that many caves around that have all the stuff that it has in it," said Reuter, who has not been in the cave since July. "The more people that really care about the cave, the more likely it is going to be protected. A lot of people have not been in Crystal Caverns in a long time, and that's why I've taken some of the students' parents in and a few adults around in it.
"It's not going to be near as neat of an experience for my students to go see since everything is damaged. We can't remake a cave or really ever repair it to how it was."
He said the cave was also broken into about two to three years ago.
"They just went in there and basically kind of just messed around there," Reuter said. "Beer bottles were found. There was some damage. They didn't really break up a lot of stuff. They crawled around in spots where people hadn't really been. You could see handprints on the wall.
"I don't know if we can get a watch group of houses that are up near there. Maybe the community can watch out for the artifacts that come out of caves. If they find some, let the authorities know. It's going to be hard to catch someone in there. I don't know if it would be good to have game cameras up in there."
The violation of the Missouri Cave Resources Act is a Class A misdemeanor with the appropriate fines and imprisonment determined by a judge in a court proceeding, Beard said. Barry County has about 200 documented caves.
If people want to tour the cave, they may contact Reuter at firstname.lastname@example.org or Heim at 417-861-6716. For more information about Crystal Caverns, people may visit www.mocavesandkarst.org/crystal-caverns.
Anyone with information about the vandalism case may contact the Barry County Sheriff's Office at www.barrycountysheriff.com or 417-847-6556.