Why move the NSS Office to Indiana?

What one needs to have in order to answer this question is Vision.

First - A vision of what the NSS needs in the form of a building. Everything under one roof. Staff work centers with desks and computers. A book store area, museum display center, and library, conference or meeting center, with kitchen and vending machines, plenty of storage, with shipping & receiving, a place for visitors to collect and possibly stay overnight, and for the future, separate buildings that cavers, researchers, and university students can rent for a reasonable fee to use as a classroom, research center, and bunkhouses. 

Second - A vision of the property that the NSS already accepted the donation of in Bloomington, Indiana. The 40-acre Buckners Cave property, currently referred to as the Richard Blenz Nature Preserve, is Southwest of Bloomington on top of a hill at the end of Eller Rd. Indiana University is located in Bloomington and would make a good partner for the NSS. Indianapolis is an hour’s drive north, with a brand new modern international airport. Four commercial caves are just one hour south. The Mammoth Cave Kentucky cave complex is only a few hours away also. Indiana’s 450 NSS members and seven grottoss are just slightly smaller than Alabama’s 495 cavers and seven grottos. The current NSS Office is located in an older area of the city of Huntsville, while the proposed site in Bloomington is on the outskirts of the city, surrounded on three sides by woods.      

Third- A Vision of what the NSS Office will look like once built, located in Indiana, could be understood better by allowing yourself a futuristic weekend trip to visit the office. I will even pick you up at the airport and drive you down for your weekend tour.
I will make reservations for bunk space in one of the new Speleo-Huts at the complex. The Huts are used by the university and the NSS as a classroom and bunkhouses for both students and cavers.

You will notice how easy it is to find your way around the new Indianapolis Airport. It has free parking for me to wait for your cell call to pick you up. The I-69 Interstate that used to be SR37 will take us to Bloomington in less than an hour. You will recognize Bloomington as a good-size college town with just about everything you can think of conveniently located right by the Interstate. Once we get to Bloomington, we will take the SR45 exit and head SW to Eller Rd and follow the signs to the "NSS / IU Complex".

Did I mention there are a dozen wild caves to visit in hiking distance of the complex? You can rent some caving gear from the complex office so you don’t have to bring your caving gear on the plane.

Eller Rd ends at the Complex at the top of the hill. The first thing we see is the visitor center and cave register, which was actually Dick Blenz's house before the front part was converted to a visitor center. The back part of the house is a nice kitchenette where Dick lives when he's not at the University.

Entering the visitor center we pick up the phone and ask for reception to confirm our reservation. We have been assigned a couple of bunks and lockers in Speleo-Hut-2 as there is a large group from the university using Hut-1 for a weekend class. We pick up a couple of pamphlets on the local caves and a map of the complex before we head into the complex to Hut-2 to drop off our stuff.

Speleo-Hut-2 is a brand new two story Barn shaped building. On the first floor there is an office, a good size classroom or meeting room, and a kitchen and snack area with some vending machines. There is also a storage room and utility room in the back. Taking the stairs to the second floor we see sleeping bunks lined up on either side. Also some lockers at the far end of the loft by the bathrooms. The bathrooms have three of everything, sinks, toilets, and showers. There is also a rear stairway that takes you down to a mud room where you can change out of your muddy cave clothes and wash them down to be hung up to dry. After checking in with the volunteer caver in the office to get our locker keys we store our gear away and decide to head back up the hill to visit the NSS Office and Bookstore before it closes.

Instead of driving we decide to hike back to the office. The complex consists of four Barn shaped buildings, two of them Speleo-Huts. There is a slab area off the path that is to be a third Speleo-Hut. The NSS office is a good-size rustic looking two story Barn shaped building and the fifth building in the Complex is the maintenance barn.

Entering the Office we can see the Bookstore on the left and the Office Center on the right. There is also a good-size meeting room, and a kitchen and snack area with some vending machines. There is also a utility room and shipping and receiving room in the rear of the building. Looking up through the center we can see part of the 2nd floor where the sign by the stairs says the Museum and Library are located. It looks like there is a two-story storage room in the back of the building. Beside the washrooms, there appear to be some smaller offices and staff rooms. The store is pretty busy with a group of cavers looking at some caving lights in the back. Heading up stairs we see a new display area on Cave Creatures on the Museum side and a few people in the Library on the other side.

From what I understand, once the NSS made the decision to build the new office in Indiana, things moved pretty quickly. The University and the local county offered some help, with incentives and some funding to improve the road.

The seven NSS grottos in Indiana, combined with the grottos in the surrounding states, had a big fund raiser to help fund the NSS Office. The list of volunteer helpers and donors is pretty big. The NSS / IU Office Complex also sponsors a Cave Owners Association that offers the small cave owners in Indiana a place to air the problems and get help when they need it.

I also understand that two of the three other property owners on Eller Rd after a little back and forth with the County and University finally decided to sell their property to the NSS so the Complex could build more Speleo-Huts. Also, the Forest Company that owns the surrounding woods, with encouragement from the State Department of Forestry decided to allow the Complex and the University access the woods for research. Anyway, all this Vision is neat, but I think we should just grab something to eat in the snack area before the office closes. Then hike back to the Speleo-Hut to rent some cave gear for you. We can then sign the register and head down the hill to Buckner’s Cave. Have you ever done the circle route?

I hope by now you've got a picture of the future NSS Office. Perhaps some of the 1700 cavers that enjoyed the 2007 NSS Convention in Indiana will remember the "Back Home, Caving in Indiana" theme. It could be the motto for the NSS Office as well.

Finally – A Vision of what the NSS Office and Speleo-Huts could look like from the outside once built. Yes, the outside looks like a Barn; in fact that what the Buckner cave area used to be called --“The Barn”. Today a barn’s open design with timber framing is a popular design.  

Bill Greenwald
NSS 9146 RL/FE