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Huntsville Underground: Let's dive into Shelta Cave

Not only does Shelta Cave sit within city limits, it's also extremely unique! Shelta Cave is owned and protected by the National Speleological Society.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Shockingly enough, Shelta Cave is only 4 minutes away from FOX54. 

Also shockingly, but maybe not as surprising... Huntsville is not only known as 'The Rocket City'...

"As much as it's the Rocket City, it's also the Cave City," said Shelta Cave Preserve Property Manager for the National Speleological Society, Scott Shaw. 

Apparently, this is not uncommon... having caves located within city limits that is.

"There's a lot of places that have caves in the city limits," said Chair of the Huntsville Grotto, James Deforest. 

"Caves within city limits aren't unheard of," said Shaw. 

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It could be assumed that where there's a mountain, there's probably a cave. But one thing's for certain... "Any place in the world you have limestone, there's going to be caves," said Deforest. 

"Any area across the nation that has limestone bedrock, will have caves and lots of cities are built on those areas. You know, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Huntsville, Birmingham," said Shaw. 

Being inside of the city limits, there's bound to be history surrounding Shelta Cave.

Alongside being the original headquarters of the National Speleological Society, Shelta Cave, at one point, was also a place of public entertainment.

"Henry Fuller bought the cave in 1888 and named it after his daughter Shelta, which is the name of the cave now," said Shaw. 

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"They held dances here, held boat rides... You know some of it, is pretty, pretty unique," said Deforest. 

You may be wondering, what could be so unique about a cave? To some... It may just be... "Muddy, full of breakdown and rock..." said Shaw. 

But really, what makes it unique - is what's living inside: "...and a lot of animals, a lot of critters. With it being a sinkhole entrance, debris falls in and that debris becomes food for some and then other animals feed on those animals and, it's the cycle of life," Shaw continues. 

From blind fish and crayfish to shrimp, salamanders and beetles, Shelta is full of life.

But even the non-living things there are quite fascinating, like these Rimstone Dams, which, like most things inside of caves, were formed by water.

Credit: Nixon Norman
James Deforest looking at the largest of the Rimstone Dams in Shelta Cave.
Credit: Nixon Norman
James Deforest looking at large Rimstone Dams in Shelta Cave.
Credit: Nixon Norman
A close-up of Rimstone Dams that are much smaller and in the beginning stages of formation.

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"Some of the formations I took you to like the bathtub (largest Rimstone Dams in Shelta Cave), I just, I love it! And I'm glad we got to see all the little ones, that are built up to that giant one," said Deforest. 

Caving and conservation go hand in hand and Shelta is owned and highly protected by the NSS.

"To keep this as a nature preserve is important because of the biology within the cave. There are some unique animals that live here and being a property manager affords me the opportunity to contribute to that conservation," said Shaw. 

Not only to protect what's inside but to preserve it for generations to come.

"You know... what is it? Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints," said Deforest. 

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