The Hidden World Beneath Us and How We Can Be Involved

Photo by Serretta Malaikham

By Serretta Malaikham, Staff Photographer—

Hidden beneath our feet, small cracks and holes, nestled into the slopes of the Cumberland Plateau, run thousands of miles of cave passages housing a secluded world. 

There are over 11,000 known caves in the state of Tennessee with roughly 600 added to the Tennessee Cave Survey in the past year. 

Discovered in 1928 via gushes of air coming from a small void inside of a rock, Ruby Falls is an example of a hidden world that displays classic characteristics of many of the region’s caves with its multiple entrances, levels and a 145-foot underground waterfall. 

Entrances to caves express themselves as small crawl ways, tight or large holes in the ground (also known as pits), which can open up to rooms whose volumes would put McKenzie Arena to shame. 

While you cannot enter all of them, many offer unique environments that shelter an array of biodiversity. These include differing plants and animals, such as salamanders, shrimps, bats and various fish.

Karst environments are characterized by their porous limestone bedrock. This makes them vulnerable to surface pollutants—what we refer to as litter—which is moved into caves by rainwater along cracks and through cavities, ultimately harming the species which thrive beneath us.

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. is a non-profit built around volunteer support and based out of Chattanooga. Their goal is to protect cave and karst regions for conservation, education and recreation.  

The SCCi is the largest organization committed to protecting caves while managing recreational access. 

With ongoing research and discoveries in new and old caves, the SCCi works closely with natural science departments at local universities along with state and local conservation agencies.  

Over the last 30 years the SCCi has acquired over 5,000 acres across seven states (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia) with a current total of 185 caves and counting.

For more information on how to visit wild caves systems and to learn more, visit


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