Albany Times Union August 24, 1981

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY

Young spelunkers discover Knox Cave wonders

Albany Times Union Monday, August 24, 1981 Page 3A

By Edward Carey

Knickerbocker News Reporter

KNOX — Frieda Saddlemire remembers going on guided tours of Knox Cave back in the 1930s, a time when square dancing and roller skating also were conducted in a large structure just outside the cave's mouth.

"When we'd get hot from the dancing and skating we'd go to the mouth of the cave because there was always cool air coming out of it. It was quite a place," Mrs. Saddlemire recalls.

The cave, in its heyday drawing up to 1,000 tourists on weekends, has been closed to the public for the past 30 years. The interior staircases and lighting have long since fallen into disrepair, and the building in which dances and skating were conducted has burned to the ground.

The gravel driveway to the cave's mouth off Knox Cave Road is blocked by a thick metal barrier, and tall weeds have grown up through the gravel.

But Knox Cave, faded from its days of glory in the 1930s and 1940s, has been given a new lease on life.

Although the cave is not being reopened to the public, it is being opened to limited numbers of spelunkers.

The North Eastern Cave Conservancy, which now holds a lease on the mouth of the cave, has opened it this summer to a group of young spelunkers under the direction of Michael Nardacci, an avid spelunker and English teacher at Albany's Bishop Maginn High School.

Nardacci, who has taught a spelunking class at the Heldeberg Workshop in Voorheesville for the past six years, currently is exploring the cave with 20 youngsters in his class.

While he has used the Clarksville caves, outside the town of Bethlehem in previous years, he is teaching his class this year in Knox Cave, marking the first time the cave has been opened to a large group of people. "Apparently even though the cave's closed to the public, it's become somewhat of a drinking spot,” Nardacci said, noting on of the chores of his class was to remove beer bottles and other tash from the cave.

"We must have taken out at least six big bags full of trash," he said.

Mrs. Saddlemire, who grew up in nearby Gallupville and now serves as Knox town historian, said the cave — for which "you used to buy a ticket and receive the grand, guided tour" — has drawn spelunkers and youths using the cave without permission since the cave was officially closed "25 or 30 years ago."

"People have trickled in over the years, but nothing like years ago. Cars used to line up all along the road to get into the cave. There were lights and stairs through the cave for people like me, but they're gone. Only people who really love caves and don't mind being up to their knees in mud should go in there now," she said.

She noted with a smile that stories about the cave abound, including the tale that one-time Knox Cave owner D.C. Robinson had "grand ideas about using the cave as a giant bomb shelter for all the people in the city of Albany" during World War II. She also noted a marriage had taken place in the cave, complete with 160 guests of the bride and groom, and several deaths have occurred in the cave. The most recent was in 1975, when a student from the State University at Albany was pinned under a block of ice and killed. Mrs. Saddlemire, who wishes "someone would come in and reopen the caves to everyone," says she is pleased that at least local spelunkers are being given permission to use the cave for exploring. "At least they're cleaning it up. Who knows what might happen?” she asked.

Young spelunkers discover Knox Cave wonders Albany Times Union Monday, August 24, 1981 Page 3A