Chartered in 2000, the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto (NRMG) is Montana’s only statewide caving organization. A Grotto is a chapter of the National Speleological Society, which represents over 8,000 cavers across the country. The purpose of the NRMG is to promote the exploration, scientific study, and conservation of caves, karst, and cave-dwelling species. The NRMG also promotes safe caving and leave-no-trace conservation ethics within all caves.
Montana’s vast wilderness areas are prime areas for discovery. In 2014, Grotto members exploring the Bob Marshall Wilderness continued exploring Tears of the Turtle Cave, to a surveyed depth of -1629 feet, becoming the deepest limestone cave in the continental United States. America’s third deepest limestone cave is also in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Virgil the Turtle’s Greathouse Cave at -1586 feet. But there is no need to trek into the wilderness to explore caves; many mountain ranges around the state contain numerous caves, and Grotto members are out there exploring them all times of the year. Additionally, Montana’s first state park is also the state’s only commercial (show) cave, Lewis and Clark Caverns.
Volunteers from the Grotto have spent thousands of hours assisting biologists and geologists from MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Montana Natural Heritage Program, the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. They help agency staff safely access caves in order to monitor cave resources and wildlife. Since the deadly bat disease white-nose syndrome began to catastrophically impact bat populations across the US, Grotto members have played a large role in WNS surveillance and monitoring. As a condition of membership, Grotto cavers submit bat observations via online trip reports. Due to these efforts, the Grotto was recently recognized with the Wildlife Conservation Award from the Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society and was also awarded the USFS/BLM Joint Conservation Project of the Year for 2019.
The NRMG holds monthly public meetings around the state called Pub Nights in hopes of spreading the word about caveand bat conservation. The NRMG hosts an annual business meeting every April where members present projects they are working on across the world. In the fall, NRMG members gather for “Cave Camp” in the Little Belt Mountains to teach beginners and expert cavers new skills and techniques.
At their annual meeting, the NRMG voted to affiliate with the Montana Wildlife Federation following a presentation by a local MWF representative. Their affiliation was approved by the MWF board on May 18th. The NRMG is excited to work with MWF to help spread the word about taking care of Montana’s fragile underground ecosystems and the wildlife that inhabit them.