History of the Charleston Grotto
The Charleston Grotto, NSS No. 6, was formed in the late 1940's by a very active group of cavers including Bob Handley, John (Bud) Rutherford, Jack Gravenmier and others. They were very active in exploration and mapping especially in the Greenbrier County area of West Virginia. Many miles of discovery in Organ Cave (then known as Greenbrier Caverns) was a result of the efforts of the Charleston Grotto especially under the leadership of Bob Handley.
The grotto hosted an NSS convention and remained active for many years gaining a close association with the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies as many individuals were members of both organizations.
Apparently, due to internal bickering, the grotto essentially disbanded sometime in the 1960s and became inactive.
Then, late in 1977 several ex VPI NSS members in the Charleston area, led by Mike Conefrey, felt it was time to reactivate the grotto. Known cavers in the area were contacted and the first meeting was held in February of 1978 and official grotto status was applied for at the end of that year.
The group has been meeting regularly ever since and has been actively involved in exploration, mapping and education hosting two VARs over the years. The grotto continues to have a close relationship with WVACS and many current Charleston Grotto members are also members of WVACS.
In the 1980’s many of the active Grotto members became interested in vertical caving. Many practice sessions were held with some in the new River Gorge. The New River Bridge had just opened and Grotto members Bruce Bannerman and Bob Frostick used their contacts to get permission to rappel the Bridge. The first year there were 2 ropes and about 16 cavers participating. Over the next 10 years, the Charleston Grotto expanded the rappelling at Bridge Day to the point that there were 16 ropes and hundreds participating by rappelling the Bridge and climbing its height. After 10 years, the local political forces asked the Grotto to relax its safety standards and accept rappellers that they chose rather than having them go through the established screening process. In addition, other safety concerns prompted the Grotto to decline the offer to coordinate future Bridge Day rappelling and turned the responsibility over to a local business. In its time as coordinators, the Grotto helped hundreds of people rappel the Bridge without an injury. The security, transportation methods, selection process and communications that they devised are still used today.
The most active members of the grotto in recent years include Bud Rutherford (now deceased), Marianne Saugstad, Bob Handley, Thoralf Brecht, Bob and Chuck Frostick, George Dasher, Mark Botkin, Bruce Bannerman, Harry Fair, Gary Vermillion and Lee Workman.
The grotto meets every other month for business meetings and gathers the months in between to collate and distribute the West Virginia Caver which is edited by grotto member George Dasher.