Suzanna L Brauer
Suzanna L Brauer is Professor of Biology at Appalachian State University (North Carolina). Her research specialization is microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. She earned her microbiology degree at Cornell University (PhD 2006). Suzanna has served on the CCV board since 2019 and has been a climber and caver since 1995. She was named Extraordinary Woman Leader in Speleology in 2015 and was awarded two prestigious Fulbright fellowships in environmental sciences to visit the University of Eastern Finland in 2015 and 2021. Brauer and her research group investigate the role of nutrient availability in shaping the composition of microbial communities and their functions in catalyzing geomicrobiological reactions in caves, such as biomineralization. She teaches courses in microbiology, microbial diversity, environmental microbiology, and biogeochemistry.
Riley S. Drake
I got my start caving in the Northeast in 2013. Since then, I have served on the National Speleological Society (NSS) Board of Directors (2020-2023) and as an elected trustee and membership chair of the Northeastern Cave Conservancy (2020-2023). I currently serve on the Preserve Research Committee of the NSS, where I help review research proposed on NSS preserves and work with scientists to mitigate the risks their activities could pose to the cave ecosystem.
Professionally, I am a research scientist. I am currently pursuing my PhD at Emory University. My research seeks to understand the relationship between groundwater microbiology and human health. To this end, I organized and led an 8-week, 26-person research expedition to study caves in the Tongass National Forest in the Summer of 2022. I have also done research in Virginia. In a project supported by a grant from the CCV, I collaborated with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Heritage Program– working most closely with Katarina Kosič Ficco– to profile groundwater microbiology across different karst regions of Virginia.
Before starting my PhD, I studied the microbiology of a variety of cave environments — including the perched aquifer lakes of Wind Cave in South Dakota, the Manganese-oxide deposits and cave-associated water in Fort Stanton Cave in New Mexico, and planaria in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
Joseph H. (Joey) Fagan
I started caving in 1966. I am one of the founding members of the Blue Ridge Grotto, a VPI Cave Club alumnus, a Fellow of the NSS, and a longtime member of the CCV Board. I work as a consulting karst hydrogeologist and environmental planner.
I currently serve as President of CCV, represent CCV on the Karstland Corp Board as its Chairman, and serve as President of the Cave Conservancy Foundation Board.
Michael J. Ficco
Michael J. Ficco is a Geologist with the engineering firm AECOM. Mike has served on the CCV Board of Directors since 2004, has held the office of Chairman of the Board since 2006, and currently also chairs the Stewardship Committee. Mike graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in Geology. Mike began caving in the early 1980s and has explored caves throughout the U.S., with emphasis on the long and deep caves of Virginia. Internationally, he has participated in caving expeditions to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and his most recent focus has been the exploration of the karst of southwestern China. Mike is also a director of the Virginia Speleological Survey, Vice President of the Butler Cave Conservation Society, and a Fellow of the National Speleological Society.
Katarina Kosič Ficco
After completing my Ph.D. in Karstology, in Slovenia, where I focused on the protection of karst aquifers and combined my political and physical sciences knowledge, I started volunteering and later working for the karst program of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. In addition to myself being a grant recipient for the vulnerability mapping of Big Creek in Arkansas, I assisted and supported several students who have become the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias grant recipients afterward. Hence contributing to long-term groundwater monitoring of the longest cave system in Virginia, microbiology sampling of karst groundwaters in Virginia, development of cave conservation sites for caves in Virginia that contain rare subterranean fauna, and so forth.
Gary Fielden is a pediatric dentist in Kingsport, TN, where he has had a practice since 1979. He grew up in Brazil where his father flew as a bush pilot for the Foreign Mission Board. He received a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a dental degree from the University of Tennessee, Memphis.
Gary started caving in the mid 1980’s with an interest in surveying and mapping the caves of South West Virginia and North East Tennessee. Although he has caved over much of the south, his favorite cave projects have been Corkscrew, Omega, and Doe Mountain in Virginia. He has also caved in Puerto Rico, Spain, and Alaska. Gary is the present Chair of Mountain Empire Grotto and serves on the Board of Directors for Appalachian Cave Conservancy.
Sara K. Fleetwood is a Materials Scientist and Engineer, currently researching bio-inspired, bio-based cellulose materials at The University of British Columbia. Sara began caving in 2010 with the VPI Cave Club, where she served as secretary, became a lifetime member, and still helps train prospective members. Soon after, she began project caving in Virginia and has since surveyed and mapped caves both nationally and internationally. Through these projects, she has volunteered for various government agencies on expeditions ranging from the Virginias and Wyoming to China and Montenegro. Sara has tied caving, exploration, and conservation into her career by formerly working at National Geographic, developing and testing ropes as a product development engineer for Sterling Rope Co., Inc., researching cellulose fibers, and, currently, developing a responsively breathable membrane.
Renee Gaskins is a paralegal in Kingsport, Tennessee. Following paralegal studies at Penn State and Bristol University, Renee began work as a probate and estate planning paralegal. Renee now works in the areas of probate, intellectual property, corporate and transactional law. She has worked as a paralegal in those areas for more than thirty-five years.
Renee began caving in the early 1980s and has caved primarily in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Renee began caving with Mountain Empire Grotto and served as an officer of the Grotto at various times over the years. Renee currently serves as an officer and director of Appalachian Cave Conservancy.
Matthew L. Niemiller
I am an Associate Professor of Ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). I received my BS in Biology from Middle Tennessee State University (2003), MS in Biology from Middle Tennessee State University (2006), and PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Tennessee (2011). Before joining the faculty at UAH in 2017, I was a Gaylord Donnelley Environmental Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University (2011–2013), postdoctoral scholar at the University of Kentucky (2013–2014), postdoctoral research associate at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), University of Illinois (2014–2016), and an associate ecologist at INHS (2016–2017). I am a fellow and life member of the National Speleological Society, life member of the Alabama Cave Survey, life member of the Tennessee Cave Survey, life member of the Kentucky Speleological Society, and a member of many other cave and other professional organizations. I have served previously on the Board of Directors of the Karst Waters Institute (2016–2018) and as Chief Scientist for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy. I serve currently on the Board of Directors (since 2015) of the Subterranean Ecology Institute. I have held editorial positions for the journals Subterranean Biology and Speleobiology Notes and served on the planning committee for the 2017 National Cave and Karst Management Symposium and organizing committee of the 23rd International Conference on Subterranean Biology. I have consulted with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding species status assessments for several cave species under consideration for listing on the Endangered Species List.
My research group (Cave Bio Lab at UAH) studies the ecology, evolution, and conservation of life in caves and other subterranean habitats using field, laboratory, and computational approaches. We combine concepts and approaches from multiple disciplines, including population and community ecology, evolutionary biology, conservation biology, biogeography, systematics, population genetics, phylogenetics, and genomics. The core research in the lab focuses primarily on subterranean ecosystems and organisms—from bats, salamanders, and fishes to crustaceans, beetles, millipedes, and other invertebrates. Most organisms studied in the lab are of conservation concern, and, in many cases, federally or state listed. Our research program is highly collaborative, often involving researchers and participants from academia, state and federal agencies, and other private and non-profit organizations and partners in the United States and abroad. I have published 100 papers, 23 book chapters and proceedings, five books, and 31 technical reports primarily related to subterranean biodiversity, including two field guides to commonly encountered species in caves of the TAG and Ozark regions.
Growing up in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas I developed a love for cave exploration and conservation from a young age. After high school and the military, I pursued a career in paleontology with a focus on cave and karst deposits. I obtained a bachelors degree in Geosciences and Anthropology while in Missouri, and a Master’s of Science (in Arizona) and PhD (in Arkansas) that focused on fossils from cave deposits. While my MS focused on an Ice Age fossil fauna in an Ozark cave, the PhD took me to a South African cave site where I worked with a team to reconstruct the paleoenvironment of early hominids and other animals from around 3 million years ago.
Between my MS and PhD, I was fortunate enough to work at that Illinois State Museum for two years, and expand my experiences by working with others in various aspects of the caving community. While there I was part of a team that assessed paleontological resources in the Mammoth Cave system and many other caves from Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas. I was also able to focus on several cave-focused paleontological publications, including a book titled Ice Age Cave Faunas of North America. It was during this time at the ISM that I really solidified my path as a cave researcher.
After my PhD, I took a job in 2003 as a postdoc at East Tennessee State University to help develop a paleontology program. In 2006 I became a faculty member and in 2012 museum director. The catalyst for the development of the paleontology program at ETSU was the discovery of the Gray Fossil Site, an extraordinary 5-million-year-old karst sinkhole deposit that formed when an ancient cave system collapsed and became a pond. This site is unique and represents a time frame in the Appalachians that was previously unknown. Further, because the sinkhole pond sediments preserve a forested ecosystem (a rarity at that time in the fossil record), many of the animals and plants recovered are entirely new to science. Examples of some of the animals include short-faced bears, red pandas, rhinos, tapirs, bats, salamanders, snakes, venomous lizards, mastodons, camels, and alligators.
While the Gray Fossil Site serves as the reason for our existence as a program at ETSU, it also provided the opportunity to develop much more. Because of this foundation we developed a research program that studies fossils from a wide variety of fossil localities in the United States, including caves in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas. Outside the U.S. we have worked on caves sites in China, Brazil, Belize, and the Yucatan of Mexico. The Yucatan project is ongoing and I am the lead paleontologist. This rather surreal project focuses on preserving and researching the rich paleontological resources of underwater caves.
At this point in my career I am a Professor in the Department of Geosciences and the Executive Director of the Center of Excellence in Paleontology (which also oversees the Gray Fossil Site & Museum). I advise students on cave-related research projects and teach courses that focus on identifying and conserving paleontological resources. I have published over 50 scientific articles, most of which focus on cave faunas and what they can teach us about climatic change, environmental shifts, life through time, and extinctions.
David R. Socky
David R. Socky is a retired software systems engineer with General Electric at Salem, Virginia, and owner of Hodag Video Productions. Dave has been a member of the CCV Board since 2006, and is currently the webmaster for CCV. He holds two Bachelor degrees, one in Business Administration/Management from Ohio University and one in Electrical Engineering (EE) from Cleveland State University, as well as a Masters degree in EE from Virginia Tech. Dave started caving in 1974 and has surveyed and explored countless numbers of caves since, including Hellhole in West Virginia and Omega in Virginia, and is currently engaged in several survey and exploration projects. He is responsible for production of the video of Grand Caverns and an educational video of Mammoth Cave, and is the Co-chair of the NSS Awards Salon of the annual convention of the National Speleological Society. Dave is a Life Member and a Fellow of the NSS. He is also the Secretary of the NSS Video Section, Chair of the NSS AV Library, President of the Virginia Speleological Survey (VSS), and Chair of the NSS Video Salon. In addition, Dave is Editor of Carbide Dump, the newsletter of the Blue Ridge Grotto, a board member of the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies, and a member of the Cave Research Foundation.
Janet Tinkham (National Speleological Society Member #24525) has been involved in caving and karst related projects for the last 31 years and is honored to be serving a second term on the Cave Conservancy of Virginias Board of Directors. In 1991 Janet became one of the founding members of the Front Royal Grotto (VA), a chapter of the National Speleological Society and currently serves as its Chair. In addition, she is currently Chair of the Virginia Region Land Owner Award Committee and in 2008 was honored to become a Fellow of the National Speleological Society. Much of Janet’s cave conservation experience came about through volunteer work with the VA Department of Conservation and Recreation Karst Project assisting with groundwater studies, Groundwater Festival workshops, Karst Model demonstrations at community events and development of a brochure “Sinkholes, Doorway to your Drinking Water”. In recent years she has been active with the Ogden’s Cave Stewardship Committee and looks forward to working with the Natural Heritage Program on Ogden’s Natural Cave Preserve conservation efforts. Many of these projects allowed Janet to gain valuable experience in relations with landowners, government officials and community members. Continuing to serve in areas of environmental education and cave and karst conservation is and will continue to be a lifelong commitment.