By Phil Lucas
Fortuitous poking around as a 7-year-old brought Phil Lucas into contact with a cave in his neighborhood. Then, at age 15, Phil was privileged to meet, and cave with, the legendary Oscar Estes. Oscar became a treasured mentor to Lucas and, along the way, introduced Phil to NSS founding president Bill Stephenson. Always on the lookout for new NSS members, Stephenson promptly got the young Phil Lucas signed up to the Society.
Phil Lucas’ underground exploits are legion and include extensive poking, prodding, digging, excavating, exploring, and surveying in the Water Sinks area. This fascinating karst region is located in Highland County, Virginia; positioned at the north end of Burnsville Cove; the site of the Lucas retirement house; and the place where Phil first met his high school sweetheart, Charlotte. The Lucas-led initiative at Water Sinks resulted in many miles of fabulous cave being discovered, explored, and surveyed. In addition, a nature trail was developed in order to educate school groups and other members of the public about the value of caves as a resource. Deeming it appropriate to memorialize the vast amount of work done in the area, Phil Lucas published Caves and Karst of the Water Sinks Area, and he received a Certificate of Merit from the NSS for the result.
Phil is an accomplished and award-winning photographer and cartographer. Always curious about subterranean water flow routes, Lucas has performed dye traces—some of which have charted underground streams flowing beneath surface rivers. For instance, work published in 1977 demonstrated that the Blowing Cave stream passed under the Cowpasture River at several locations. Phil’s associated interest in air currents spawned a unique method for measuring air flow between cave entrances. Working with collaborators Nevin Davis and Frank Marks, this procedure was published under the title “A Method for Detecting Cave Connections by Inducted Air Flow.”
Phil has also had a long-term interest in the Culverson Creek area. Along the way, Lucas teamed with Roger Baroody to hook up Lower Fuller with Culverson Creek Cave. Believing that the earlier surveys could be improved, Lucas—along with Bill Royster and others—spent a decade pushing and mapping in the Culverson Creek complex. Putting miles of cave passage on paper, Phil became an expert on Culverson Creek and in the weather events that drive the water levels in this West Virginia river complex. When these cavers were done, Phil—in company with Bill Balfour and George Dasher—authored The Caves and Karst of the Culverson Creek Basin. This tome is populated with historic photographs, detailed maps, and a boatload of adventure.