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Darryl Marsh: Engaging everyone

Cyber security expert in ORAU's Cincinnati office has turned life-long interest in caving into opportunity to help beginning cavers

Darryl Marsh: Engaging everyone
Darryl Marsh

Darryl Marsh’s volunteer spirit was born during his Boy Scout days. “I looked up to many of my troop leaders and definitely gained a lot of wisdom from them,” said Marsh, who rose to the rank of Eagle Scout.

Marsh, a Cincinnati native, works at ORAU’s Cincinnati office as a section manager for Cyber and Information Security on the Dose Reconstruction Project for NIOSH.

“Originally, I found myself volunteering in college because it was a requirement of my scholarship,” Marsh said. He was a driver for a free, student-run taxi service at the University of Cincinnati. Marsh did more than the required hours because he felt a great sense of accomplishment. “I had more focus and meaning in life. Also, I became more social and learned new skills,” he recalled.

After college, his volunteer efforts grew, and he began serving at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House Charities and a nonprofit, no-kill cat shelter.

Going underground

Ten years ago, he found his true passion.

“I was very fortunate to get into the caving community through the Greater Cincinnati Grotto, a chapter of the National Speleological Society,” he said. Marsh had taken walking tours in caves as a Cub Scout, but with the caving community, he went off the charted path. Wild caving calls for exploring unmarked passageways, scaling rock formations, and crawling and squeezing into narrow, muddy chambers. Often these adventures are done in caves on private land, rather than caves open to the public.

Marsh leads the chapter’s outreach program, Let’s Go Caving, to teach beginning cavers.

“Caving is a noncompetitive team sport where we support each other in a safe, conservation-minded manner. It is about education, discovery and recreation,” said Marsh, explaining that short nature lessons describe the animal inhabitants and geology of the caves. Many excursions are held at the Great Saltpetre Cave Preserve, located near Mt. Vernon, Kentucky.

Guides volunteer their time, and equipment is provided to participants, so the day-long activities are offered free of charge. “We schedule youth and adult adventure and education groups, as well as individuals coming on their own,” he said.

The organized groups may be Girl Scout troops or economically disadvantaged, inner city youth groups, or groups of young men who have previously spent time in juvenile detention. The groups share the experience with others in the community. “We hold ‘icebreakers’ so people can learn about one another,” Marsh said.

“Our goal is to allow people to interact and enjoy nature, and also to gain confidence by learning new skills and growing new friendships,” said Marsh. “Caving has definitely helped me build my confidence.”

Marsh and fellow cavers came to a consensus about specifically reaching out to members of the LGBTQ+ community. “It is a growing trend in our country to move steps beyond diversity and also have inclusion and engagement,” he said. “We foster a caring environment where everyone feels comfortable to join us as they expand their comfort zone,” he said. The cavers’ efforts have received positive response.

He feels satisfaction that many beginner participants stay with the program and sometimes become guides. “They have found their outlet and now help others in the community,” Marsh said. “That’s what rewards me the most.”  

More than caving

Marsh’s desire to help others expands every year, and he channels his energy into outdoor activities and citizen science. In addition to his caving adventures, he takes water samples for the Upper Cumberland River Watershed Watch to gauge water quality. He assists with the Clifton Deer Fertility Control Pilot Program, a five-year research study to control white-tailed deer populations. His role as deer transporter involves moving sedated deer from fields to surgery for sterilization and then to recovery sites. Also, he volunteers for the Ohio Division of Wildlife to conduct acoustic surveys to monitor changes in bat populations. He is a crew member with Living Lands and Waters during its annual Ohio River cleanup events.