Nutty Putty Cave



Please first view the Channel 2 News video from 12/02/2009 for a current closure status report that is very well done. LINK TO VIDEO


Michael Leavitt12/03/2009 - 10 AM - I have been inundated with emails and phone calls regarding both the status of the Nutty Putty Cave, as well as what we can do to save the cave. I hope the following information will help those wondering what the real issues are involving the closure of the cave. Personally, I am very excited to see the public start this grass-root effort to save the cave, but at this point, I think their message is convoluted and not coming across clearly. Just yelling out “Save The Cave” is not going to accomplish the desired goal. That is much too broad of a subject and request. The death of John Jones on 11/25/2009 in the Nutty Putty Cave has added so many new dynamics that the issue is not as simple as save or close the cave.

As I look at the cry for saving the cave, it becomes clear that there are two diverse goals:



I am all for saving the cave. I love this cave. However, saving the cave means to preserve the integrity of the cave and its eco-system. And while the Nutty Putty Cave is not filled with endangered bats, it does have its very own creatures and insects that deserve their right to continue living as they always have. The method of permanently closing the cave could greatly affect this eco system, not to mention the structural integrity of the cave passages, and eventually, the stability of the ground above it.

I attended the initial discussion on methods of cave closure and all extremes were discussed; from blowing the cave to kingdom come to minor passage closures and installing a beefed-up gate at the entry.

The issues with closure revolve around ensuring that John Jones’ body is not disturbed and ensuring that vandals could not easily breech the entry.  As you can imagine were it your loved one in the cave, these are the requests from John’s family. Leaving his body in the cave was not their first choice, but if the cave was to become his grave, then they did not want others to desecrate what has become sacred ground to them. Their feelings and request were completely understandable from my perspective.

I encourage everybody to make their voice heard about the cave and its inhabitants’ needs and how they are to be protected. Just last night I was told about the incident during John’s rescue where the resident blow snake that lives at the opening fell onto one of the rescuer’s back while he was getting into the cave. A fellow caver yelled at them to not kill the snake as it was not poisonous. This caver then proceeded to pick up the 4-foot-long snake and carefully carried it 600 feet away and let it find a new home. The point is that there are living things that will be affected by the closure of the cave, depending on the method of said closure. If closure must be done, then let’s be as gentle to the life forms and the cave as possible. They were here long before the cave’s discovery and should be allowed to remain so for the duration of their lives.

SAVE RECREATIONAL CAVING IN THE CAVE - Without a doubt, the majority of those people contacting me want to save recreational caving in the cave. This is an extremely popular cave that seems to affected most everyone Utah County in one way or another; either they themselves have entered the cave personally or they know somebody who has told them about entering the cave. At least that is what my inbox and phone registry would indicate! Very few people offer blank looks when the cave’s name is mentioned. It is a recreational landmark in the county and has been for many, many years.

Given that fact, the majority of the general public does not want to see recreational caving stopped in the cave. I will format and share some of their emails responses later. For now, the general public wants their caving privileges to be continued, but this is where it becomes anything but an easy decision.
GRAVE - First and foremost-The Jones family reached an agreement with the land owner that the entire cave was to be treated as John’s grave. I encourage everybody to step back and respect the decision that was reached. Whether you like the decision or not, you need to realize that this was not the family’s ideal or first choice for their son’s final resting place.
GRAVE EASEMENT - The cave has been designated as the grave of John Jones and therefore, the option of recreational caving in Nutty Putty Cave is completely off the table.

PRIVATE LAND - Probably the biggest misconception about Nutty Putty Cave is the thought that it sits on public land. It does not. The cave sits on SITLA (State Institutional Trust Lands Administration) lands which are not public lands, even though SITLA is a government agency. These lands are mandated for the use of generating money for the public schools. SITLA has specifically omitted recreational use from these lands and they can ban the public from accessing their private property.

Much to SITLA’s credit, for years they have gone out of their way to be a viable contributor to our community by allowing caving at Nutty Putty. However, they do not have any systems in place to manage caves, nor do they have any desire to do so. It is clearly out of the scope of their purpose for existence, if you will, to manage caves. Unfortunately, they were stuck with property that had caves on it. Wanting to allow the public access to this beloved cave, they realized that the volunteer efforts of the local National Speleological Society grottos could help them not only successfully manage the cave, but also provide an access management system that would require safer caving practices than had previously been in place. It was at this point that the Timpanogos Grotto formed an all-volunteer cave management team specifically for the Nutty Putty Cave.

NOTE... PROBATION - When this mutual agreement between SITLA and the Timpanogos Grotto started 5 years ago, it was done with the condition that if there was ever a major accident or death, that SITLA would be forced, due to liability, to sever the management agreement AND immediately stop recreational caving in the cave.

RESCUE EXPENSES - Who is going to pay for the rescue/recovery expenses? Is the public to be burdened with them or are the caver and his family responsible? This was always a major question posed by the land owners, and rightfully so. They did not want to be stuck with this huge liability and potential for great expense, especially when they were granting the public access without any compensation on lands that are specifically designated to MAKE MONEY for our schools. They had originally asked for a million dollar insurance policy against any and all expenses and legal actions when they were first looking for a larger entity to lease the property for recreational caving.

SITLA graciously acquiesced on this point and allowed Timpanogos Grotto to manage the cave without any policy in place because of our volunteer status and the fact that there were would be no profit made. All this so the public would not have to incur any expense in order to access the beloved Nutty Putty cave. In this case, it would be interesting to know the final estimation of the cost of the attempted rescue/recovery of John Jones by the paid rescue personnel and the equipment that was used during the rescue at the cave. Add to that the time invested by the volunteer cavers and volunteer search & rescue members and I am certain that the final total would be staggering.

ASSURANCES - After the death and during the discussions that followed, I was asked by all of the officials involved (not just SITLA) if I could guarantee that another death would not occur next week, next month or next year. We all know the answer to that question. Absolutely not. Caving is risky and caver’s assume risk whenever they enter a cave. Landowners and businesses exist to make money. Caving is all about allowing risk and personal choice and has nothing to do with making money. If John Jones’ body had been recovered, then I am certain that SITLA would have entertained offers from any rich philanthropist who offered to buy the property and open up “Nutty Putty Caving Land” with a steep entrance fee in order to pay for the hefty monthly insurance policy that would be necessary to maintain such an experience.

PUBLIC OUTCRY - I applaud those who are speaking out even though they are not fully aware of the details. “Knee-jerk reaction made out of emotion” is the common theme in their written and verbal complaints to me. I can understand that perspective, but as you come to see the bigger picture, you realize that what the Cave Management Team always knew and feared could happen has come to fruition. There was a major accident that resulted in death and on top of that, the body was not recovered.

It was an immediate, yet extremely sad realization that our worst nightmare had come to fruition. We never wanted anyone to even get injured in the cave, let alone pass away. Caving is inherently risky; we all know that. We went forth with our plans to re-open the cave knowing that we could not completely eliminate the risk.  It should be stated here that we all truly feel sorrow and grief over the death of John Jones. It has been a tragic event that has affected so many of us that were involved in some way with the attempted rescue. John’s death resulted in the immediate end of recreational caving in this cave. This is why you have heard me state publicly that this was the only decision that could have been made.

Some people have mistakenly taken this statement by me as a lack of desire or have criticized me for what they perceived was a lack of action on my part to see Nutty Putty Cave stay open for recreational caving. This is just not true. I love this cave. That is why I have spent so much of my time and efforts this past year volunteering on the Cave Management Team. I have been going to Nutty Putty Cave since 1993, just after moving to Utah, and when I heard it had been closed, I wanted the opportunity to take my own boys, as well as others, to this beloved cave once again. It was no small feat to get this cave re-opened on May 18 of this year. It took many, many people and hundreds of hours all by volunteers who just love the cave and the experience one can have in it. So to think I took this decision lying down or without so much as a whimper or suggestion to keep it open, would be just a lack of knowledge of what took place. I understood all the diverse complexities of the issue and realized that there was to be no more recreational caving in this cave and the only thing I could do was to focus my energies into making them understand that they needed to be careful in the WAY that they closed the cave so as not to disturb the eco-system and to allow a change of heart later.

REGARDING PUBLIC HEARINGS - I have heard from many people who are upset that the public has had no say in the closure of Nutty Putty Cave. These people state that we don’t close Little Sahara when there is an ATV death or Utah Lake when there is a drowning or local mountains when there are hiking or climbing deaths, so why are we closing this cave that everyone loves so much?  “How can you close the caves without public hearings?” And while I can understand where this misconception comes from, it must be understood that the Nutty Putty cave sits on private land and the decision to close it is completely under the land owner’s discretion. This doesn’t mean that the public shouldn’t let the land owners know their feelings on the cave and its closure. Feel free to express your opinion to SITLA, as is your right. But know that the public has no say in what a private land owner can and cannot do with their property, within certain boundaries, of course.

So who was consulted when making the decision to close Nutty Putty Cave? SITLA sought out the advice from the law enforcement agencies, Search & Rescue, and the Cave management team before coming to the conclusion that it should be closed for recreational caving. This was done although they had every right to make the decision alone without seeking out any other advice, as they are the sole decision-makers for their private lands.

BLOCK DANGEROUS PASSAGES, BUT KEEP THE REST OF THE CAVE OPEN – There have been many who have suggested that they just block off the risky passages and leave the rest open for caving and exploring. On the surface, this would seem a reasonable solution, except for whom would you block the passages for? A 97-pound caver could easily navigate the passages that would trap my 6’6” 220 pound frame. I can think of at least a dozen locations in the cave that I would not enter at my size. Should those be blocked to protect me and people my size? Or should we use the 6’0” 200-pound size of John Jones as the barometer? So you can see that it would be impossible to make the determination as to what is dangerous and too small. Also, this had been considered in the past, but, again, due the litigious environment in which we live, if you block off one or more passages and a person gets stuck in a passage you did not block off, they could sue you for not having done so. If you leave this cave as is and at their discretion, then there is not the same liability as the scenario above. Nutty Putty is a wild cave, which means that there is very little improvement made and the individual caver gets to decide which passageway he/she wants to explore. We are not talking about a public cave like Timpanogos Cave National Monument where they lead you on a guided tour with handrails and don’t allow free access to passageways. So how do you eliminate the risk with up to 6 groups of up to 10 people entering the cave each day in a wild and unimproved cave? The answer is, you can’t.

MY AMAZEMENT - I have been amazed to watch the outcry and see that the public actually feels that the solution is to just cap off the passage where the body lays and then return to caving in the other passages. What makes people think that the landowner would ever want to assume further risk by allowing other people to enter the cave? It makes horrible business sense. Think about it. Would you open up the cave that sat on your private land if someone died in there? The next person who was trapped or injured would have a field day suing you for having had a previous death and not take any action to ensure it would not happen to their loved one. And since it is not feasible to expect that any organization can control the individual choices of the caver in the cave, the risk is real and inevitable that somebody else would make a poor decision and get, at the very least, stuck and in need of rescue. So while it may seem on the surface like a viable option to open up some portion of the Nutty Putty cave to recreational caving again, it is not.
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE - I encourage everybody to speak up, but not with anger or malice. State your views but be supportive of those that have long been involved. For now, I would ask that you not be too frustrated that recreational caving was stopped at Nutty Putty Cave. Let’s make our main focus how the cave is closed and that it is done without major harm to its eco system or structure. If we are careful in its closure, this would allow other options to come forth at a later date that would possibly, eventually restore recreational caving. I am not going to spell those out here and will leave it your own common sense to determine what dominos would have to be lined up to fall for this to happen. Don’t forget to include the recovery of John’s body and future financial responsibility, just to name two.
Please share with me your thoughts and unanswered questions. I will do my best to respond by adding information here on the website. I feel strongly that the more we can disseminate good, accurate information out to the public, the better that the public can focus their energies in purposeful ways.
RESPONDER RULES: If you do not share your name and location, then I will be forced to take all responses from anonymous senders and place them on secondary pages. It just isn’t fair to anonymously throw out information that sheds doubt. If the information is valid, then proudly share it, stand behind it, and give details to prove your points. I will then convey it to the other readers. Anonymous responders are second class cyber-citizens and will be treated as such by me.

First Name:
Last Name:
Michael - I agree that the only decision now is to close the entire cave and seal it off, until such time as (A) John's body can be recovered intact, and removed for a better "final" resting place; and (B) In the  event of (A); the cave can be managed and access controlled much as the Grotto managed it the last several years and months since it was reopened.  Whether there is a philanthropist who would be willing to open it for recreational caving is a big if, considering the liability issues is someone else should enter and get trapped, whether they get trapped and killed or killed in an accident, or whatever.  That is a LOT of potential liability for anyone to take on themselves, and we have been lucky that the owners of the land have permitted caving for so many years.  
I hope someday both (A) & (B) can happen, so that the natural wonders and the sheer joy of caving can be opened up for future generations.
Kent Hart - South Jordan, Utah
My thought is the decision to close the cave was still too rushed. There needs to be more time given to this. Why does it have to be closed this second instead of giving some time to step back and consider other options. I also do not believe a grave easement for one person can tie up hundreds of feet of land. Let's step back and think about this for a while. Even given your comments above the decision was still too rash.
B.J. Rosenhan - Saratoga Springs, UT

I'm not a caver,nor do I have a strong opinion about the situation, just been following and have been interested in the story. Thank you for offering an explanation for the questions being brought forth. I was quiet suprised that no one had come out with a press release of sorts to explain the logic behind closing the cave or why other options did not exsist. While I don't agree with all of your arguments and logic put forth, I understand more fully now the reason behind the closure and appreciate the explanation. Thank you and keep up the good work. Sharon Johnson - Clearfield, Ut

Michael, While I did a bit of amature cave explorarion when I was younger, I get my kicks kayaking whitewater.  The reason I mention this is that in 1995 a death occurred on my favorite whitewater river.  It was an accident involving extemely high fast cold whitewater and in response the local sheriff closed the river to paddlers deeming it "unsafe."  A print reporter who was friend of mine pointed out in an opinion piece that the sheriff had overstepped his role in doing so.  It is simply not law enforcements job to make determinations about what activities are safe vs. non-safe for the public to engage in.  I proudly racked up 2 tickets for paddling this section of river during the brief closure period. My journalist friend --tongue in cheek---pointed out that the sheriff should be promptly sued by anyone having an accident on any of many other "open" and "safe" rivers in that county. Using that same logic, the next Utah county caving accident that occurs in an "open" cave....and seemingly deemed "safe" cave by the UTC sheriff...I believe the victim would be in good standing to sue the pants off of Utah county. More importantly..I just think it's improper and outside of the role of law enforcement to arbitrarily close down recreational sites based on limited and narrow notions of "what is safe."  I think this is what is bothering people about the nutty putty closure....a small group of government officials making a quick decision that will effect a large number of citizens. NOTE TO RESCUERS---you people have my respect, thanks, and praise.  NOTE to JOHNS FAMILY & FRIENDS---you'all have my deepest and most profound sympathy for your loss.  My guess is that your loved one would not have wanted a "closed cave" outcome.  Your needs for sacred space surrounding the place he is buried can co-exist alongside the needs of future visitors to Nutty Putty cave.  Who knows...if done could be a beautiful thing.    
Barry A - Alta

I believe that the cave should be blocked from human passage, not animal.  Let the cave's ecosystem remain undisturbed.  After a sufficient passage of time, John's skeletal remains can be safely retrieved, returned to his family, and then the cave can return to recreational caving. Dan Herkimer - Seaside, CA

Listen, if they can free Floyd Collins, they can free John Jones. I am sure John did not want this closure to happen. He liked caving. Mark - Harpers Ferry, WV

Michael LeavittMark, it is very ironic that Floyd Collins was brought up, not because he was also trapped in a cave, but because many of the Timpanogos Grotto members did not know the story of what happened to Floyd. But last month at our grotto meeting our secretary/treasurer, Richard Downey, got off track on a tangent and he started to relate the events of Floyd Collin’s death. He went on and on for about 10 minutes and off the top of his head shared a very detailed story line. We were all very entertained and did not realize that within two and a half weeks 90% of the people in the room would be on site for John Jones’ rescue.


Michael - Firstly, thank you so much for all your efforts through these troubles. I don't think any of us can really understand the difficulty of these decisions until we're actually part of the situation. What I think people who don't cave need to understand is that for some people this is a way of life. They love to cave in much the same way that other's like to water-ski or scuba dive or bungee jump. To us who don't cave it's not a big deal at all and to those who do it is an intensely serious problem.

What my question is, and this is purely curiosity, if they had equipment already in place to get John out why did they not then leave it in place to sooner or later retrieve the later remains? I was under the impression that there was a pulley system in place that they were utilizing in the rescue effort. I recently lost my father, he passed away peacefully at 47 yrs old 8 weeks ago and I understand the family's heartbreak at least in part. I for one would like to see options kept open for retrieving remains, especially considering the controversy that has been opened up around this subject and as a way of closure for the family.

The reports I saw stated that there may be a way to go in at a later time, which i don't understand since they are using cement to block off the entrance. Can you clear this up a bit for me? my interest is purely out of curiosity, as I have never caved before and I've only been in Timpanogos once, very nice cave, but this story has kind of stuck in my mind. Thank you. Brittany Longjohn - Salt Lake City, Utah

Michael LeavittBrittany: The method used for the concrete allows them the ability to removed it later. They did not allow it to flow in and fill the lower portion of the opening. This means they could jack hammer down, remove the concrete chunks, and then reopen the entrance to the cave. I look forward to getting back out there and seeing what they have done.

The rigging was removed because if a recovery is done years in the future it would be to get the bones. Most of the rigging belonged to the private cavers called upon to help with the rescue. They tell me that with the 80 degree heat in the particular passage of blowing geothermal air that the decomposition will be much faster than it would be in a cold cave.

But nobody ever said that an eventual recovery would take place. Wisely they took the precautions necessary in case there was a change of heart on the matter in the years to come. Michael Leavitt

Michael- Thank you for taking the time to create a clear, concise, and reasonable explanation about the status of the cave.  Had I seen this information earlier in the day it would have saved me many hours of frustration, a call to SITLA, etc.  If reasonable, I would encourage you to make this link available to KSL and the Daily Harold as that was my original source of Googled information.  It was SITLA that sent me to the Daily Harold assuring me that it was a UNANIMOUS decision, which I found hard to believe.  
I hope that someday this newly  opened  cave will become a monument and tribute to the spirit of exploration (with its associated risks) that (I assume) John Jones cared about.

Darryl Stewart - Draper, Utah

Your waivers state that if you use the caves you are responsible for the rescues etc it is a strongly worded waiver does it not hold up? I would not want my body down there no matter what and I am sure this family will regret deciding to leave him there. Nothing else was even proposed. These are public lands under a trust. The public should of at least been heard. Sorry for everyones loss. Kathie Masich - Utah

Michael LeavittKathie: Thanks for responding with your thoughts.

Can you explain to me why you feel these are public lands? SITLA owned lands are private and not public. They are dedicated to make money off the mineral claims. SITLA is allowed to block the public from even stepping foot onto their lands. I feel that your phrase should read, “They are private lands under a trust.”

As for regrets of the family. Provisions have been made where access could be gained later if there is a change of heart and want the remains recovered. I think this was a wise decision in the methods used to close the cave.

Michael Leavitt

Kathie did more research and provided the following information on Trust Lands...

Dear  Michael,
Boy you have your hands full! And you are good to respond so quick. Let me say I am not a caver. I have  been in several and if I have to get on my belly I am done. But the public out cry seems to have been ignored. I am sorry for this family  I am glad that you made provisions that they can later recover the body later.
Heres where I found my information

About Us

The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (Trust Lands Administration) was created to manage 12 real estate trusts granted to the state of Utah by the United States at statehood. At that time, 1/9 of the total land in the state was designated school trust land, with added acreage for 11 other beneficiaries. Trust land totaled 7,475,297 acres at statehood. Since then, about half of what was originally granted to the state has been sold to private owners. More than 30 percent of what is now private land in Utah was originally trust land. The cash from the sale of those trust lands was deposited into the permanent funds of the beneficiaries.

In 1976, the federal government put an end to homesteading in the public domain. Federal lands are no longer available to private citizens as in years past. In Utah, almost 70 percent of the land area remains in federal control, with only about 21 percent privately owned. The Trust Lands Administration, with roughly seven percent of the land in the state, is essentially the only source of new private land in Utah.

The Trust Lands Administration manages a 3.5 million-acre real estate portfolio for the financial benefit of the12 beneficiaries.

Trust lands include both surface lands and mineral lands. The 3.5 million acres discussed so far refer to surface lands in the trust. Most of these lands also have subsurface, or mineral lands, with them. In addition, there are about a million more acres of mineral-only lands in the trust — for a total of 4.5 million acres of mineral lands. Even though there are 12 trust beneficiaries, the Common Schools Trust owns 95 percent of all Utah trust land.

Some areas of the state have large amounts of trust land, while others do not. For example, there are only 32 acres of trust land in Salt Lake County, while Millard County contains almost 403,000 acres. Rural areas have a larger number of trust land acres.

After reading about this I don't trust this trust. I am a resident of the US and of Utah so it is for our benefit. But like any trust the trustees decide everything and can pretty much do what they want.  It wasn't clear who the beneficiaries were but I think it was the schools etc . I am curious who watches the board ?  Anyway I hope that answers your question .
Good luck through all of this.
Kathie Masich

I responded and asked her if that didn’t confirm the Trust Lands were private...

Dear Michael, It doesn't say private but it serves the only  beneficiaries and NOT the public at large. Joe public doesn't know any of this. It is interesting what really goes on and how complicated the government is .

Wish I knew about this when we were protesting our tax hike due to the Jordan School District. Kathie Masich

Why cant they go in in a cuple of week when his body is a little flat and pull him out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It makes me mad!
Bailey Ure - Springville - Utah

Michael LeavittBailey: Please explain your thought a bit further. Let’s say that they did go back inside the cave in a month or a year and perform a recovery of the remains, then what do you want to happen?

Do you think they would immediately restore caving?

Who would assume liability?

Who would pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the next rescue?

Or would each caving group have to buy a specialty insurance policy protecting the private land owner before they entered the cave?

I am open to all good ideas, but you have to explain them to me in more details so that I could get on board with your train of thought.

Michael Leavitt

First, I would like to say I respect your view and the decision made by the family.  I believe while this topic is extremely heated in the community, everyone should take a step back.

Personally, I would like to think that while the immediate victim here is obvious, we have all suffered a loss.  Where mine differs from the family, and I completely understand their decision, I would like to offer a thought.

John obviously enjoyed the cave as many of us have.  I would like to think that had this not happened, he would have taken his children to experience it when they were old enough.

My heart reaches out to his family.  This is such a tragic situation and I feel that with all that has happened in such a short time, added stress is being negatively directed toward the family before any grieving period could begin.

I would like to see the cave opened for future generations.  I completely understand the risks involved, but would like to see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

For me, not being able to enter the cave is not as hard as knowing my son, now 7 weeks old, will never be able to experience something so amazing. 

Seth K - Herriman, UT

Seth K's thoughts are mine exactly.  I have enjoyed this cave for 20 years and my last time there was approx. 1 year ago. I am sad that my kids won't get to enjoy it. Hopefully it was sealed in such a way that if we decide to "unseal it" in 10 years, we can.  Sometime in the future, the land will change hands and options may still be open. 
Cory L - Saratoga Spring

What I don't understand is the so called "Rescue Costs".We have Rescue personel trained and standing by for rescue. We also have volunteer rescue groups. When a salaried sherrif of firefighter or other rescue worker responds why then is there all this "cost". Taxes and revenue already generated should have covered this "cost". I admit I am probably niave in this issue but this part of the logic to close the cave escapes me. We pay these people to help us out if we get into trouble and to protect the public if there is toruble or not so why the EXTRA cost when they respond??

B Neilson - Salt Lake City, Utah

Michael LeavittB Neilson, That is a great question and I must admit that I don’t fully understand this either. Due to the extended time frame of the rescue/recovery, I know that taking the 140 rescuers away from their normal fire departments meant that other personnel was called in to cover their normal work. Having law enforcement on site and then keeping an officer 24/7 near the opening until the cave could be permanently sealed also took them away from their normal responsibilities. I look forward to getting a better answer so that we can both better understand host the costs are paid. But to think that there was no added expense to the tax payer for all of the added man hours invested in the rescue is naive. Each city that sent their rescue professionals incurred an unexpected expense.

Michael, I had a few questions about some points that you bring up.  
1.  You mention the liability of the land owner being a future reason why this cave may not be reopened.  If a strongly worded liability waiver was required, wouldn't this take all of the financial risks away from the SITLA?
2.  As far as the costs associated with rescues.  It seems as though a proper rescue attempt could be made with 2,3, or maybe 4 qualified cavers with the proper equipment.  I don't see the need for any police, or firemen to be involved.  Maybe an ambulance.  Couldn't there be a way to get a team of trained, experienced individuals who would volunteer their time to the rescue of Nutty Putty cavers.  I know I would be more than willing to do this.  I don't see this solution costing much.  I also would think a great idea would be to mark the cave with signs or plaques that would show them where they are on the map.
Would these solutions be viable if they ever extracated John's body from the cave?
Nathan Baugh - Salt Lake, Utah

Michael LeavittNathan: Great follow-up questions...

1) Yes and no. It still requires legal action and headaches. This means hassle and the land owners really want no hassle or burden. Owning a cave is a headache. Owning a cave that makes you no money yet heaps upon you huge liabilities is a migraine headache. Our grotto cave management plan proposal was allowed to be implemented to help eliminate the headache for the landowners by raising the safety and awareness of safety in the cave. But what we could not eliminate was the personal choice and decision making of the individual caver. Let’s face it, it would have been easier for them to stop the caving altogether years ago than to deal with the liabilities of recreational caving. I don’t like that reality, but I can understand their point of view.

2) The actual rescue team in the cave could be rather small. Most of the responders could not do much inside because only a few people could get close to John due to the small passage that he had crawled far up into. For this reason, experienced caver rescuers were scheduled to go inside in waves. Up above on the surface, it is an entirely different issue. Huge generators, lights, compressors, command centers, communications above and below ground, medical personnel to evaluate the rescuers and the rescued, debriefing tents, heat sources, food and other items were needed. Now add to that the rescue gear and a fresh brain trust needed to coordinate all of the activity. Law enforcement is needed to prevent just anybody from wondering up on the hill and interfering with the process. And then there is the press. They want information so there has to be a briefing officer and regular leadership briefings so that he knows what information to share with them. The longer this rescue lasted, the more people, equipment, and food was needed on the hill. And just so you know, this was the very first time I had ever seen a porta-potty near the cave. And what about the 4 helicopters, both press and rescue flying around the sky. When equipment was needed that was not on site, they actually flew the helicopter over to the city to procure the needed items. That was a huge asset and time saver because this cave is set so far out around Utah Lake.

SIGNS & PLAQUES - This was discussed in the past and was rejected because this was a wild cave. Obviously there is good reason to reconsider that decision if times change and recreational caving is ever allowed in the cave again.

Thanks again for raising these good questions. Michael Leavitt

It's hard for me to believe that you haven't given up on this issue.  If it is true that blasting was done in the cave I feel this is a major loss.  Permanent damage will have been done to the cave.  This is United States of AMERICA! It's hard for me to believe that it is IMPOSSIBLE to allow for safe access to this cave sometime in the future.  I'll admit that the indefinite closure of the cave right now is the right decision.  But damaging the cave permanently can NEVER be undone.  Can you confirm that blasting was performed in cave?  I believe you can do a better job of clarifying what SITLA lands really are.  I'm not sure labeling these lands as Private or Public is the right classification they would definitely be labeled somewhere in between.  Michael, I do appreciate your efforts, you played a major part in getting this cave re-opened at least for a little while, you should feel proud of your efforts.  I hope you don't feel guilty over the situation.  A caver is responsible for himself alone, your efforts only encouraged individuals to be more prepared and safe.  Thank you all you have done and are doing to keep any permanent damage from occurring at this site.
Jacob Anderson - Orem, Utah

Michael LeavittJacob: Thanks for your kind words. Blasting was an option. Filling the passages with concrete was an option. I have had no briefing as to the final decision. I have heard varying reports from different sources, but I doubt I will ever know exactly what was done inside the cave until possibly at a later date if it is ever opened up again. I was happy to see the care that was taken with the opening that would allow possible later removal of the concrete.

Regarding this comment you made: "Would you open up the cave that sat on your private land if someone died in there?"
Absolutely!  Why would someone's irresponsible actions affect my own land's status?  
Just look at Ginnie Springs in High Springs, Florida. It's an underwater cave system that's privately owned.  Many people have died there, and it continues to stay open. Everyone knows that exploring caves (underwater or not) are very risky. Someone dying at a high-risk location does not mean that it has to be closed immediately!
Susan Palmer - Miami, FL

Michael LeavittSusan, that is what is so great about America, you can own property and assume whatever level of risk that you desire. It is easy for us to make a decision for them, but ultimately they get to decide what risk they want to assume. So unless you can alter the decision made by the land owner of the Nutty Putty Cave, then we will not be enjoying caving again on their property.

I think I will investigate more of the details of the history of the Ginnie Springs. Thanks again for sharing. Michael Leavitt

It makes me wonder why they chose an outer cement plug when a metal grate was already in place.  The Sheriff indicated to me that anyone with bolt cutters could enter Nutty Putty in minutes with the previous grate.  Is there any reason that grate couldn't have been strengthened or redesigned, to keep the cave secure and closed for now?  I presume that grate was either cut out or buried under the concrete.  Thanks for any info on that.
(I also wonder how much it would cost to buy the cave from SITLA, presuming that was even a possibility now?  I guess that is a question of real-estate prices or mineral resources.)
Paul Carroll - Vernal, UT

Michael, Sorry for the tough situation, very regrettable.  Regarding "Assurances," I'm sort of disappointed that you didn't see that trap coming.  The sheriff (and to a certain degree the SITLA) clearly had an agenda they were pushing, and that was a very cheap political ploy they pulled on you there.  One couldn't guarantee something like that any more than you could guarantee everyone in that room would live to see the next sunrise.
Highly disappointed that the Grotto and other caving organizations didn't see this one coming.  I just hope we (cavers, writ large) will learn from it and do a better job regarding such events in the future.
Dean Wiseman - Indianapolis - IN

Michael LeavittDean, you have caused me to jerk my own knee and say, “Hey wait a minute!” The grottos were the most proactive all the way along. Without the grottos 5 years of efforts there would be no gate, no approved management plan, and no recreational caving. Covering the cave was in the plans long ago. We were instrumental in delaying its fate. But you knew that, didn’t you? There is nothing for us to get defensive about because we know that we did the best we could. Michael Leavitt

I understand the reasons for the closure but it saddens me and I personally disagree with the decision.  People die all the time in such accidents.  There is a personal risk taken by those who engage in such activities.  I knew that during the two times I spent caving in the Nutty Putty Cave.  Regarding SITLA, I understand that the law allows for them to make this decision without public hearings, and that it may be considered "private property", but disagree with the notion that it actually IS private property.  All government-owned properties in the United States are public as the government is an elected body representing the people.  This does not ensure public access, but I believe that the public should have a voice in this situation.  Personally, I would elect to consider temporary closure and later removal of the body, after which opening the cave would be viable.  This would allow the family to have a final resting place for their loved one and for the public to continue to enjoy the adveture of caving in Nutty Putty Cave.  Personally, I feel that the public should be responsible for such emergency rescue operations and recovery operations.  That is what taxes are for.  If SITLA is a government agency, it should be operated as a public entity, not a private one.  Thus, the liability would fall on the State, not on a private agency.  However, I personally feel that liability should not be an issue as the decision to go caving is a personal one in which there are inherent risks associated.  The responsibility is on the caver or the group running the caving expeditions.  Anyways, those are my thoughts.

Kenneth Olsen, Hanford, California

Very well stated Kenneth. Michael Leavitt

Perhaps we should close Mount Everest too.  There are dead bodies all over the top of it form people who couldn't make it back.
"The cave sits on SITLA (State Institutional Trust Lands Administration) lands which are not public lands, even though SITLA is a government agency. These lands are mandated for the use of generating money for the public schools."
That sounds so ridiculous.  These lands are not public, they are owned by PUBLIC schools.  The fact you couldn't explain who owned the cave without using the term public tells me it is public. 
So it is public land in my book, we pay for schools in our taxes, and what business does public schools have doing buying land with public tax money.  Let them put that money towards books, not forming trusts.
I have personally been in the nutty putty cave, and you know what I said to myself and who was with me?  This is stupid, I am going back.  I don't believe in taking those types of risks for entertainment.  In all do honesty I think most mountain climbers and people who get high of this type of stuff are nuts.  In reality a part of me hopes it does get sealed so that none of my over outgoing friends or relatives try to drag me or my loved ones along on one of their stupid thrill seeking weekend warier adventures.  
So though I personally would like to see it closed, I don't think it is right for a group of caver's who didn't know their limits to ruin it for people just as crazy as them in the future.

Frank Black - Utah

Michael LeavittFrank: I have been notified that there is a grass roots effort to pursue the cave closure further. I was contacted by Scott Emery and he is combining resources and people to take this to the next step. Stay tuned for details. I will provide them as they are shared with me. The legal aspects and fighting these types of actions are beyond my current skill set. I love to research issues and learn, but rather than fight the government, I am better at finalizing and implementing the management plan. That is why I thrived so well with the Nutty Putty Cave Management Team. I left the politics to Chuck Acklin, Jon Jasper, and Cami Pulham. Each of us had a different skill set and those three handled the government while I took on the cave access management. Together we were able to do what others had long given up, and that was to get the cave re-opened to recreational cavers. It has been great working with them and I praise them for all of their volunteer hours for the cause.

As an aspiring caver myself, I am saddened at the loss of the cave, having never had an opportunity to explore it. Even more though for the loss of John Jone's life. It is unfortunate but I think the decision that has been made to seal the cave is the only option at this point. It doesn't matter at this point how anyone feels because the decision has been made. It is more important now to use this as an educational tool to teach aspiring cave explorers about calculated risk.  I get frustrated with some who act like this is the only cave in Utah and we will be losing it for ever. Maybe it will never reopen but realize that there are literally hundreds of known caves in Utah, many by most standards far more beautiful than nutty putty. While it is unique, there still exist nearly endless opportunities for cave exploration right in our backyard in caves more pristine than nutty putty.
Happy caving. Taylor Arave - Ogden, Utah

Michael LeavittTaylor: You hit upon a great point. There are many other caves out there in Utah to be explored. The Nutty Putty Cave was viewed as a sacrificial cave that novice cavers could learn their skills without damaging delicate cave formations. Where are these cavers now going to cave? Except for lava tubes scattered throughout the State, most of our caves require vertical skills. This means that those that want to get into caving are going to have to learn in much riskier environments.

So don’t get mad that people act like this is the only cave in Utah because Nutty Putty has been the only wild cave that most Utah cavers have ever experienced. Nutty Putty kept the traffic much lower to all of the other caves while providing the level of risk and thrill to satisfy the majority of the masses, and this was a good thing. It filled an important role in the caving community, and now we will have deal with rescues in far more remote portions of the canyons, deserts, and mountains.

At least before we knew where the majority of rescues were going to happen.

I think it's important to leave John Jones the dignity that he deserves.  However, the assumption is that all cave explorers (spelunkers) are taken back by all of this, and they do understand the inherent risks of the sport.  I do not wish to impune decisions made on behalf of the Jones family or state officials, but ask the question, If John was still alive and someone else had fallen victim would he want this cave feature closed???
Eric Thompson - Taylorsville, Utah

I'm not a caver, but I've been in caves that look much better than the pictures I've seen of Nutty Putty. To me, Nutty Putty seems like an adult version of a McDonalds' playland. I agree with the decision to close it, as it was put in the hands of people who would insure that a greater level of safety would exist, and yet that wasn't enough to prevent this tragety from happening. 
That being said, it seems like the "Trust" that owns this land and cave do have the ability to sell it. So I think if the cavers who want it opened so bad got together and created a fund to buy it, they should be able to do so. Then they can, with the family's permission of course, recover John's body and have it moved to a better resting place. After that, they can do with the cave as they so desire, provided they take complete personal responsibility for what happens. That means no signed wavers, and they pay for the rescue and/or recovery. If you want it opened, and you think it's safe, put your money where your mouth is!
Pete Steiner - La Habra, Califronia

As someone who doesn't live in Utah, I'm trying not to speak out of place, but I do have one thought.  It sounds as if provision has been made for the eventual removal of Jones's remains if his family has a change of heart several years down the line.  What I wonder is since ownership and management of the cave is such a convoluted affair, WHO would authorize re-opening the cave? 
Roger Voeller - Portland, OR

Michael LeavittRoger: That is an easy question.Ownership is not convaluted. As the cave management team, we have no involvement now that the cave is closed. SITLA owns the property and they have set this up to be a grave easement. The family has the right to put a memorial above ground. If there was a change of heart, then it would be instigated by a request from the family. In talking with several of those responders that were right up with him at different times of the rescue, they say it would be difficult, but possible once the decomposition process is further along.


Michael LeavittI have been updating this page with all of the feedback and feeling real good about the viewpoints expressed. The writers are clear thinking, logical, and not afraid to mention their names and stand behind what they have written.

Then comes along the following information packed email that sheds doubt on many of the key points of the John Jones recovery and cave closure issues. It was submitted anonymously, and that is what I find most upsetting. I dislike reading something that makes you question everything, yet it is all presented as truth without all the explanation of where to find it.... CLICK HERE if you want to read it. In the spirit of openness you can visit the secondary page and read it if you like.

RESPONDER RULES: If you do not share your name and location, then I will be forced to take all responses from anonymous senders and place them on secondary pages. It just isn’t fair to anonymously throw out information that sheds doubt. If the information is valid, then proudly share it, stand behind it, and give details to prove your points. I will then convey it to the other readers. Anonymous responders are second class cyber-citizens and will be treated as such by me.


First Name:
Last Name:




Copyright © 2009-Present