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News Exploring caves, not C.A.V.E



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Dropping through a two-foot hole with hydrogeologist George Veni

Big mistake. Last week's diatribe about City Council's refusal to televise Citizens to Be Heard was a bit overzealous, as one kindly City Hall insider pointed out. The group of Timberwood Park residents who attended a meeting two weeks ago and petitioned the City to allow them to have a vote to decide whether they would incorporate or be annexed were not speaking during CTBH.

It was a formally convened public hearing that their neighbors who stayed at home could tune in and watch on TVSA Channel 21.

Party Lines regrets the error, and sincerely hopes that no San Antonio area subdivisions are annexed as a direct result of this oversight.

Let's get to the good part.

Forget City Council for a week, let's go caving. No this is not about Citizens Against Virtually Everything. It's much better than that.

South San Independent School District Science Coordinator Joann De Luna devised an innovative solution for South San teachers to receive end-of-year in-service credit - a state requirement despite the cuts in teachers' salaries and retirement benefits.

De Luna used her influence with fellow members of Bexar County Grotto of the National Speleological Society, the Texas Cave Management Association, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (her sister, Annalisa Peace, is the director in San Antonio), and Bat Conservation International to convene nearly 20 South San teachers last Saturday. They attended a session on teaching the Edwards Aquifer at South San ISD's adult-learning center and then proceeded to Robber Baron Cave on the Northeast Side.

Robber Baron Cave was a speakeasy during Prohibition, when its multiple passageways were frequented by explorers of varied ilk. The Cave Management Association has removed a concrete barrier, and is working toward offering cave tours again.

Three teachers either balked right at the entrance or turned around immediately after crawling through the cave's entry grate. Those who followed hydrogeologist George Veni and geologist Dan Hogenauer into the cave were soon gasping for breath. There's not much air in there, and any physical exertion results in a state of near-hyperventilation.

Another group turned back in the Graffiti Room, where Raymond Beck scratched his name on the wall on November 6, 1918. Many others followed suit over the years, although Veni now warns cave visitors to kindly keep their hands off.

I followed close on Veni's heels as he dropped through a hole, about 2 feet in diameter, that appeared in the cave passageway's floor. The trick is to actually see someone drop through the hole, which bolsters enough courage to follow suit. At this juncture, a few stragglers refused to go through the hole, and took another route to the Chapel Room.

After much gasping for breath, the South San caving crew surfaced, (even the ones who refused to enter Robber Baron Cave) and all agreed to meet at the Bracken Bat Cave, home to 30 million Mexican free-tail bats, for the third leg of this innovative teacher in-service.

Everyone was patient, and at dusk the bats began flying out of the cave, creating a vortex of dark brown flying critters against a moon-lit backdrop. Everyone was in awe of the sight of a virtual tornado of bats that would be still exiting the cave after everyone was home in bed.

Science coordinator De Luna says she intends to schedule other types of outdoor in-service sessions for teachers, and that an invitation to participate will be extended to teachers who work outside of South San ISD.

By Michael Cary

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