Schoharie County will soon serve as host for the headquarters of a nationwide association of cave owners and operators.
Robert Holt, the former general manager of Howe Caverns, was recently named executive director of the National Caves Association, a trade group representing nearly 100 caves and caverns in the United States, Bermuda and Barbados. He will run it out of his town of Cobleskill residence.
The NCA was founded 47 years ago under interesting circumstances.
It got its start when cave owners organized in 1965 to lobby Washington against First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson’s American Beautification Campaign. They weren’t against planting flowers but worried about plans to remove billboards from highways, which members saw as a detriment to tourism promotion efforts.
Today, the group works less on lobbying and more on ensuring that members conform to operational standards.
Holt is currently secretary/treasurer at the NCA, is a member of its executive committee and has served on the organization’s insurance, history and business innovation committees. As executive director, he’ll also manage the group’s roughly $200,000 budget.
“I think one of the reasons why the folks in our association wanted me to do it is the fact that I know the membership, I know the folks with all the caves,” Holt said.
The NCA’s main office has been situated in Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri in the past. The move will mark the first time New York state has hosted it.
“The fact that a national association is being based in our locale speaks well, I would think,” Holt said.
He said he expects to be fielding calls from journalists seeking info on the cave industry while continuing work to educate cave owners about white nose syndrome, which has been devastating bat populations on a path from East to West.
Employees at NCA member caves work to teach members of the public about the disease and its impact on bats that hibernate in caves, he said.
The disease is pretty much old news here in the East. “Folks on the West Coast have probably not heard of it. That’s why the association keeps it at the forefront to educate folks as it does spread further west and south,” Holt said.
The cave industry saw some decline in business over the summer, Holt said. It coincided with a nationwide rise in gasoline prices.
“Overall I think most caves have seen their business up for the most part,” he said.
More information about the National Caves Association can be found online at www.cavern.com.