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Project Underground activities are:

Science-Based and Interactive

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Welcome to Project Underground!

This series of cave and karst lessons teaches the importance of protecting and preserving these special environments. Since 1996, PUG has been a part of introducing geology, biology, and history of caves and the importance of their protection.  Since every continent on Earth has caves, it is important to share this knowledge for proper stewardship of these areas. Caves are an important resource for all residents of the world. Not only do they contain beautiful underground features and unique wildlife habitats, this resource may also hold the key to the health of an entire town or city by its links to drinking water.

PUG was created by environmental educators and cavers coming together to research ideas and develop the activities. The activities have been designed and field tested by indoor and outdoor educators and reviewed to best meet the expressed needs of educators. It is with sincere hope that educators will gain an appreciation for these resources as they teach others on their importance.


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PO Box 250 Signal Mountain, TN 37377


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How PUG Works

PUG activity books are distributed through attending a professional development workshop taught by a PUG Facilitator. Most PUG curriculum materials (printed or electronic) are only available by participating in a professional development workshop. Some select curriculum materials are available for purchase at our store

The PUG activity book has been divided into three sections: geology, biology, and history. Each of these topics can be taught in formal or informal settings and range from early elementary age through adults. Besides making learning fun, the hands-on activities bring the cave alive when you are unable to visit one with your participants.

PUG's workshops are hands-on learning experiences that provide participants with skills, knowledge, and creativity to teach cave education. Most workshops are 3-4 hours and review a number of activities. Often, workshops are held at cave locations or incorporate a field trip to a local cave. Tailored workshops are available for groups by contacting us. A minimum of 5 participants are needed to schedule a workshop. Virtual workshops are a possibility for those not in the Southeast United States. 


"As you read this activity guide, I hope you will gain an appreciation for karst resources and the need for good management of these resources. Thanks to everyone who is using these materials." -Carol Zokaites, Retired National Coordinator of Project Underground



History of Project Underground

PUG is the reality of the hard work of countless educators with a passion for teaching the importance of caves including their geology, biology, and history. The curriculum began in the cave regions of Virginia, with a group of educators wanting to teach the importance of the cave resources for which they cared deeply. The Richmond Area Speleological Society, Cave Conservancy of the Virginias, National Speleological Society, and National Speleological Foundation were all supporters of the curriculum when it was first introduced in 1996. It has seen various editions with updated materials and activities throughout the years.

In 2019, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. was selected by the PUG organization to carry on the exceptional tradition of cave education upon the retirement of National Coordinator and Managing Editor, Carol Zokaites. It has  since been updated to a 5th edition to include national science standards.

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 “There was a time when our natural resources seemed unlimited. We have begun to realize that we have unknowingly been putting many of the resources on which we depend in peril. Those who have worked on this project, most donating their time and talents, hope you will find this effort useful in teaching our young people about this natural resource. It is through your efforts that local awareness will be raised, and knowledgeable and responsible attitudes will be developed in future decision makers for karst management. Thank you for taking this to its most important step, implementation in your classroom." - Diane Barns, First Director of the Project Underground program.


What is a Cave?

The term cave is given to a naturally formed underground cavity. The term usually implies that the opening is large enough for a person to enter and may indicate a length further than sunlight reaches. Some caves measure a few hundred feet while others extend for many miles and reach hundreds of feet in depth. The longest cave in the world is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with more than 400 miles of passage. Many caves are still be discovered, explored, and mapped by cavers. There are many types of caves in the world, including limestone solution caves, sandstone caves, ice caves, lava caves, and sea caves.  IMG 5011 1


What is Karst?

Karst is defined as a landscape with sinkholes, springs, and streams that sink into subsurface cavers. The word karst was developed in Europe, where early geologists first studied the nature of groundwater flowing through limestone hills and valleys.

Approximately 10% of the Earth’s surface (and 20% of the U.S.) is composed of karst; however, approximately 25% of the world’s population lives on these areas! The hollow nature of karst terrain results in a very high pollution potential. Streams and surface runoff enter sinkholes and caves, and bypass natural filtration through soil and sediment. Groundwater can travel quite rapidly through these underground networks-up to thousands of feet, or even miles, per day. This transmits contaminants to wells and springs in the vicinity.

In karst areas, the fractured limestone rock formations have been dissolved by flowing groundwater to form cavities, pipes, and conduits. Sinkholes, caves, sinking streams, and springs signal the presence of underground drainage systems in karst lands.

Unless watersheds are protected, these direct connections between the surface and the subsurface can threaten the quality of our drinking water. The safest watersheds are those in which all residents understand the karst landscape and work together to reduce soil erosion, high-density development, agricultural and urban storm water runoff, overgrazing, improper waste disposal, and pollution.


Karst and Groundwater Protection 

Karst regions feature underground streams and aquifers which supply the wells and springs that communities use for their drinking water. Karst protection requires an understanding of the watershed and the will to protect the natural resources within it. The watershed is an area of land from which all water drains into a common water body.

Groundwater is an important source of private and public water supplies. However, everyday activities in the source area can contaminate the groundwater on which so many people depend for everyday use. It is very important to protect these source areas from detrimental activities. Residents of a watershed can protect groundwater by minimizing land disturbance, soil erosion, heavy runoff of storm water, and pollutants.


Mission: To teach about cave and karst ecosystems through earth science, biology, and history. Aligned with standards for use in formal and informal education, PUG uses hands-on activities to reach the ever changing nature of educating in a technology based world.


Project Underground is a program of Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi); a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1991 and dedicated to the protection of caves and karst landscapes through conservation, education, and recreation.