Tampa Bay Area Grotto

Tampa Bay Area Grotto History:

June 4th 1983 marks the official beginning of the Tampa Bay Area Grotto. On this date we became the 295th member of the National Speleological Society. That first meeting went on for seven hours and covered a host of topics including the adoption of the NSS bylaws, the acceptance of a working grotto name, and the voting in of our first officers.

During that marathon meeting Toni Williams, while briefly visiting the restroom, was quickly voted in as our first official chair.  Upon returning to the meeting room, she was surprised but did in fact accept the position. Later a more formal vote was carried out and thus officially started our first president.  Of course, ever since that meeting, Grotto members have learned not to leave the room during elections for fear of being voted in to office.

Also during that inaugural meeting the group struggled to find an appropriate name for the Grotto.  The very first name under consideration was the “Bay Area Troglodytes Society” or “B.A.T.S.” for short.  After some deliberation, the group felt that few people would know what a troglodyte was, thus they finally arrived upon the name as we know it today.   Of course, this was not without controversy.   Early letters to the chair complained that the name “Tea Bags” connoted a wet, flabby, drippy, weak, devitalized, image.  Despite much ongoing discussion, the name prevailed through the years.  Toni took advantage of the name during the annual NSS convention, when she handed out tea Bags with printed labels that read “Tampa Bay Area Grotto, June 4th, 1983.”  I wonder if any of those tea bags are still out there some where?

Our very first newsletter was published just two weeks after that initial June meeting of 1983.   This “virgin premier Issue” had no name, but rather introduced a contest to create both a newsletter name and a grotto logo.  Despite much solicitation the original “mast head” or logo stuck for a number of years.  Each newsletter was topped by a picture of a handheld carbide lantern shining rays of light into a cave.  This logo was swapped out a few times over the years, but by far and away was the most commonly seen graphic on those early newsletters.

With barely $100 in the treasury and no bank account yet established, the grotto published its first newsletter for $38.20 with an additional $20 in mailing fees.  From there on out volunteerism prevailed regarding photocopies and the mailing list was limited to paid members.  With dues at just $6 per person and $1 each additional household member the group got kicked off with very little capital.

The grottos’ first organized trip was to Blowing Hole near Brooksville.  Done on June 25, 1983 the group did an organized cleanup hauling bags of trash out of the cave.  One bag broke while being hauled out, but no one was hurt and the cave was left trash free.

In addition to Toni, our first executive committee was comprised of John Arnaldi, Vice Chair; Carol Logan, Secretary; and Jean Allen, treasurer. We owe these folks a debt of gratitude for the founding of our Grotto.  Of course, they did not do it all alone. The grotto started off with 37 members from 28 different families.

Although just 23 years old, the grotto has had a great impact on many many people and issues.  Members have appeared on televised newscasts in multiple newspaper articles.  They have testified on behalf of cave protection, have located new caves, and have been involved with cave restoration, cave rescue, and of course cave education.  Although tea bags may appear drained and weak to some, in fact they contain powerful herbs and minerals that have been used for centuries in hundreds and hundreds of cultures and civilizations.  While not centuries old ourselves (thank goodness), we should take pause to celebrate our organizational history as we continue to learn and grow as a Grotto.

Written by Bruce Flareau

We care about caves, their contents, and the safety of all who visit them.

Copyright 2013, Tampa Bay Area Grotto of the National Speleological Society
Last Updated April 2013