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Search for Cavern Entrance Underway Near Branson

A large sinkhole appeared at Top of the Rock Golf Course last May.  But instead of taking the advice of geological engineers:  filling the hole with large boulders and restoring the golf course to its original design, Bass Pro founder and Top of the Rock owner Johnny Morris had other ideas.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

Large equipment is down inside the sinkhole these days moving out dirt—the excavation company was able to go in after Morris hired engineers to stabilize the sides.

Morris is looking for a cave passageway.  Ground radar when the sinkhole first appeared indicated there’s a cavity somewhere below.  And when a lake above fell into the sinkhole, the water rushed out of John L’s Cave, 2000 feet to the west.

"That water rushing through the cave has embarked him on this treasure hunt for this natural wonder," said Bass Pro's director of conservation, Martin McDonald.

McDonald said that cave is one Morris first discovered in 1993 on a walk with the property’s former owner, Dr. M. Graham Clark when the two came upon a natural spring.  Morris started excavations and five years and several dead ends later they revealed a cavern home to what National Geographic magazine described as “an underground chapel.”

Project manager, Jim Wolfinbarger, with Barrows Excavation, said they’ve been digging for about six months, and they haven’t found anything yet.

"Occasionally you’ll find a void or something that looks promising but so far nothing has materialized to be of any size,” he said.

But he and McDonald remain optimistic a passageway off the sinkhole will be found.  McDonald said Morris decided to excavate the sinkhole due to what he calls his “zest for exploration.” 

"I think he has a sense of when he’s getting close.  He has that extra sense that nobody has related to caves and underground.  He’s the ultimate spelunker,” he said.

According to McDonald,  if they find a passageway that leads into a cave, it could potentially be open to the public someday.  But he said their policy is to leave 75 percent of any cave they find natural and undisturbed except for scientific use.

John L’s Cave likely won’t open to the public because of what McDonald calls its “amazing stalagtites and stalagmites.”

"But if something happens between here and there and we do find that connection that would probably be a different story," he said.

The sinkhole, when it first appeared spanned 70 feet across and was 40 feet deep.  At this point in the excavation, the hole is now 200 feet wide and 100 feet deep.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.