"We've come a long way in the past four or five years," Coleman said, "and the caving community has a lot to do with it."
In addition to helping Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel conduct bat surveys inside and outside hibernation caves, cavers have been invaluable in detecting new outbreaks of WNS and educating the public about the disease.
"The first confirmed report of white-nose syndrome in West Virginia came from a caver exploring a cave in Pendleton County," Stihler said. "So did the first reports of white-nose in Monongalia and Preston counties."
Pearson said that although only a small percentage of the 1,300 caves in Greenbrier County accommodate bat hibernation, cavers visiting any cave should decontaminate their gear and garb after each trip underground.
At the convention, decontamination kits containing plastic bags, duct tape, disinfectant wipes and spray, are made available to cavers taking part in the 40 organized caving trips, and countless other self-guided trips, that take place daily during the weeklong convention. The bags and duct tape are used to quarantine clothing and gear, removed immediately after leaving a cave, for transport to a decontamination station set up near the convention's campground, located on a grassy expanse of State Fair land.
The decontamination facility includes several power washers, a series of screen tables on which clothes and gear are placed while power washing takes places, and tubs filled with disinfectants and detergents.
Among those using the setup Tuesday afternoon was Avra Cohen of New York City, a member of the National Speleological Society's New York City Grotto, just back from a visit to 16.4-mile McClung's Cave.
"It's my first convention and my first time down here," said Cohen, as he arranged his cave-soiled coveralls on a screen table in preparation for power washing. "It's great that someone put all these caves so close together. I've been having all kinds of fun getting into big rooms and going through tight passages."
"The caves down here are big and beautiful, and there are a lot of them," added Tim Burlingame, who was decontaminating his gear following a crawl through Scotts Hollow Cave.
Headquarters for convention activities is Greenbrier East High School, where conventioneers tour exhibits, listen to speakers and sign up for activities ranging from cave photography to cave conservation and management.
In the school's gymnasium, climbers take part in workshops to hone climbing skills, such as re-belaying, and take part in competitions involving ascending gear and wooden squeezeboxes, used to determine who can wriggle through the narrowest passage.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.