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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- State officials say the popular Nutty Putty Cave could be closed to spelunkers unless an organization can be found to properly manage it.
Nutty Putty gets about twice as many visitors as any other Utah cave, said Jon Jasper of the Timpanogos Grotto Club. He estimates there are about 4,000 visitors a year, but only about 1 percent are properly equipped.
There have been four rescues from Nutty Putty Cave in Utah County's west desert in the last decade, including two during the Labor Day weekend last summer.
But Utah County Sheriff's deputies are dispatched several times a year for rescue operations after friends or family of overdue cavers call. By the time rescuers can get out to the remote location about 20 miles southwest of Provo on the other side of Utah Lake, the missing cavers are back on the surface.
But following the two rescues during the Labor Day weekend, the sheriff's office took its concerns to the state agency, said Gary Bagley, resource specialist with the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
Officials with the Trust Lands Administration now are trying to figure out how to keep the cave open and still avoid problems.
"Closing the cave is one of the options," Bagley told The Daily Herald. But the agency would rather see an organization lease the cave and take over management.
Most cave visitors mistakenly think it's on public land, said Kim Christy, assistant director in charge of surface management. But it's on trust land, acquired by the state for its mineral resources, including limestone and gravel.
The Trust Lands Administration manages trust lands for the maximum gain, not for recreation.
"We want to spend our resources on something more profitable," Bagley said.
The agency is obligated to find ways to reduce costs, Christy said. Leasing the cave would provide a modest income and regulate its use.
Jasper agrees that because of the growing popularity, the cave needs management and some way to regulate the use -- to ensure visitors are properly equipped and understand safety and sanitation issues.
"You can't have 200 people in there. You'll use up all the oxygen and somebody's going to die," said Phil Brown, who has been working with others to assure the cave is kept open, even though that will mean some restrictions on access.
Kimberly Reynolds of the Utah Valley State College Outdoor Education program said the college has been working with Brigham Young University and others to come up with a plan to manage the cave to ensure access and preservation.
The agency has received one lease application, said Bagley, who wouldn't name the applicant.
A lease would require an organization to assume all risk and liability, carry adequate insurance; release the state and Trust Lands from responsibility, and pay reasonable fees.
The minimum lease would be $400 per year plus some additional startup costs, Bagley said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)