Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Mysterious Cave Hidden in St. Louis

On Friday afternoon, two feet were all that separated success from failure. The effort to locate English Cave was successful. Contact was made for the first time in 100 years with one of the most remote and difficult to access historic beer caves in St. Louis. You have to remember that the first contact was made with the historic beer caves in St. Louis by a drilling derrick which was only two feet away from the west. It would have missed the entire limestone bedrock void completely.

Since I first wrote about saving the English Cave Community Garden, and the long-lost Cavern that lies beneath the Benton Park neighborhood’s surface, a lot has happened. Just to the west of English Cave Community Garden, Marian Amies, Bill Kranz’s girlfriend became the unofficial headquarters for the English Cave Steering Committee. This committee organized an effort to rediscover English Cave. The property was purchased by the Benton Park Neighborhood Association, which preserved the land for the community garden. Two holes were to be drilled in the garden to hit the “Void”, as described by the English Cave Steering Committee. Donations were made by the Missouri Speleological Survey and Benton Park Neighborhood Association, Meramec Valley Grotto, among others. The drilling of the first hole, which was originally to measure around four inches, was delayed in January. However, Geotechnology, Inc. began drilling the second hole on Thursday.

After drilling through about 16 feet of soil, it reached limestone bedrock. The bit got stuck in the rock and the drilling continued. Overnight, there was a lot of suspense. However, drilling resumed on Friday. This time, the bit became stuck in the sand. The drill made it into the Void English Cave just after lunch. The drill made contact with the historical lagering cave for the first time in a century. They had only two feet left to go west and would have missed the wall. Joe Light, president, and CEO of the Meramec Valley Grotto caving group that had donated $500 to the drilling effort described the significance of the cave in the contexts of St. Louis speleological history and brewing.

“This is Area 51 of St. Louis’ caving scene,” English Cave, one of 38 caverns in the City of St. Louis. “This is a grand mystery.”

After the laser measuring tool was threaded down the hole, Dr. Kenneth Boyko (a Missouri University of Science and Technology post-doctoral fellow) began to take LIDAR measurements of the cave. LIDAR is a method of “firing” millions upon millions of laser beams in both horizontal and vertical directions. It measures the time it takes for the laser light to bounce back to its LIDAR instrument. Dr. Boyko stated that LIDAR is extremely reliable because the laser beams travel long distances and we know the speed of light. Therefore, we can determine how far an object or wall is from LIDAR by the time it takes for the laser beam to bounce back to the LIDAR instruments. There are some issues. Aluminum, in particular, can cause the laser’s bounce to be affected by certain surfaces. Water can slow down light’s speed compared to air. However, for measuring caves this was not an issue. When laser beams strike water drops falling from the ceiling, it can cause “static”.

The LIDAR started to collect 10 million data points in its initial scan. Later scans had more than 40 million. A virtual image of English Cave appeared on Dr. Boyko’s computer screen. Both popular conceptions of the cave were confirmed and disproven.

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