By Bob Hathaway
Owner, Odyssey Scuba
There are a lot of good reasons for the NSS Convention 2015 to come to Waynesville, Missouri, yet one of the best reasons will be least visited! Every person attending will pass within mere feet of the opening to one of the most interesting cave systems in the Midwestern United States, yet it takes more than the “usual” cave exploration equipment to see this Cave State wonder…
Waynesville has enjoyed a revitalization of business in the last 3- 5 years that has returned a certain charm to the small Missouri town, and visitors enjoy strolling the downtown area to explore various locally- owned shops and restaurants which line the square. The city also has a rich historical heritage including a section of the “Mother Road” of Old Route 66 running through its middle, noted Civil War sites, and even part of the original Trail Of Tears is inside its limits. However, the beating heart of Waynesville’s natural beauty exists just a short distance from all of this in the form of Roubidoux Springs, a beautiful freshwater spring feeding into the Roubidoux River which divides the town into its eastern and western parts.
Visitors are able to park their cars alongside the river at the Roy Laughlin Park and walk along a short, well- maintained span of the Trail Of Tears Memorial Walkway leading from the Route 66 Bridge up to the spring. They are often fascinated at the sight of trout and other types of local fish swimming in the crystal clear water, and can pause occasionally to read the historical markers placed along the way. Even more fascinating to a large number of visitors as they round the bend is the unexpected sight of scuba divers making their way into and out of Roubidoux Springs cave/cavern system!
Cave and cavern divers have been drawn to Roubidoux Springs for decades, fascinated both by its beauty and challenge. The spring is located within the city park system, so park rules and regulations are in effect. A Cave or Cavern certification is required to dive the springs, and the city has implemented a check- in/check- out protocol for those diving there. This protocol is more often self- enforced by divers themselves instead of law enforcement as a way of keeping thrill seekers and the uninformed out of harm’s way. Divers are appreciative of having such a wonderful resource for their enjoyment, and take serious the measures and responsibilities put in place to protect it.
The shallow pool at the mouth of the spring often fools passersby to the true extent of the massive cave system just below their feet, which was recently explored by technical divers to a distance of nearly two miles as it winds its way back under the city. The actual distance the cave goes back is still unknown, and plans for further explorations are continuously being made as advances in equipment and technology expand. Divers are eager to be among those who have extended the line to its furthest point, and travel from all across the United States as well as foreign countries to be a part of the effort. While cave divers certainly dominate the diving at Roubidoux Springs it is certainly not limited to them. Cavern divers also have one of the largest and most interesting areas to explore in the Midwestern United States, and with the support of Odyssey Scuba & Travel (located less than a quarter of a mile away) it is a fun and easy way to spend a day of diving. While cavern diving is much more restrictive in limits than cave diving (including a linear distance limit of one hundred thirty feet of exploration, and being within sight of ambient light at all times) it also enables a greater number of sport divers to enjoy the experience.
Cavern divers suit up on shore and wade into the 55- 58F temperature water at the mouth of the spring. Use of dry suits is preferred, but certainly a thick wetsuit is an option. Final safety checks are performed, then divers slip into the small opening located just beneath the walkway bridge over the bubbling water. The narrow opening extends back approximately twelve feet before beginning to slant downward to a depth of over forty feet. The cavern zone also widens out to reveal a massive room where divers are able to explore along the cracks and crevices of the walls.
Even underwater in a cave there is life, and with patience and a good eye cave fauna can be found. Roubidoux Springs is currently the site for an on- going fauna count, and several local divers are involved in this scientific endeavor to better understand and protect the delicate creatures existing here. Blind cave fish, crawdads, and other animals are identified and studied, and are happily thriving at Roubidoux Springs. It’s a lot of fun to see one of these tiny residents going about their lives as one explores among the rocks and holes!
At the furthest point back in the cavern zone the actual cave system begins. This smaller tunnel- like opening is prominently marked by a “grim reaper” caricature sign, warning non- cave certified divers that they have reached the limit of their exploration, and that further training and equipment is necessary before continuing. While this simple sign has doubtlessly saved many divers from getting into trouble, most divers are explorers and risk- takers by nature and the well- meaning sign is occasionally viewed with a slight resentment. However, cavern divers usually find more to explore than is possible in a single dive and are quick to continue searching the cavern zone. One object of curiosity usually encountered is the diver habitat. This large box- type structure was placed by cave divers needing a place to “rest” after extended dives in the cave system, and allows those divers a temporarily air pocket where they can rest and communicate during long decompression stops. Cavern divers usually look the habitat over for a few moments before returning to their explorations of the rocks and crevices. In addition to light and linear distance limits cavern divers also follow the “rule of thirds” when it comes to air consumption; one- third of the available air supply going in, one- third for coming out, and the last for emergencies or contingencies. This rule of thirds usually limits a cavern dive in Roubidoux Springs to a time of around twenty minutes, which also makes multiple dives desirable. Air fills and other sundries are available at Odyssey Scuba, so divers have a place to enjoy between dives should they choose to leave the springs area. If you are cave or cavern certified, you won’t want to miss the underwater beauty and adventure of Roubidoux Springs! For more information, or to arrange a cavern dive, contact Odyssey Scuba & Travel on their website at http://www.moscuba.com, or call them at (573) 774-DIVE (3483). A single visit to Waynesville, Pulaski County, and Roubidoux Springs will only prove one thing; a single visit simply isn’t enough!