August 10th, 1997 marked the start of the ninth annual Restoration Field Camp at Mammoth Cave. This year was the beginning of a multi-year project focused on the Echo River Trail.  The Echo River tours were discontinued about five years ago.  While these tours were one of the more popular ones in the cave the cost of manpower to conduct the tours and to maintain the tour route was no longer within the funding available to the park.  The Echo River trail route floods several times each year and each flood leaves behind a large amount of silt on the tour route.  Each flood event requires that the trail be restored (silt removed and bridges repaired) prior to conducting tours along the route again.  This requires a significant amount of manpower and time that could be better spent on other maintenance activities.

 In the five years since maintainence of the tour route has been discontinued there has been significant deterioration of the bridges and in some areas a large amount of silt covering some structures.  The current project calls for removal of the bridges and man-made structures along this route.  This will remove non-native material from the cave and restore this section to a more natural state. The bridges are constructed of creasote impregnated timbers. Over time the creasote has leached into the soil and water. Removal of this material will improve the ecosystem for the cave creatures living in the water.


The 1997 camp began on Monday with five people entering the Violet City entrance to do some minor trail patching.  They were to meet the rest of the group at the Historic entrance at lunchtime. The remainder entered the Historic Entrance and proceeded to the former boat dock on Echo River.  At this location a double set of aluminum stairs led down to the water.  As the stairs were partially buried in silt the first step was to clear the stairs off so we could dismantle them.  While part of the crew cleared the stairs, another part started dismantling them with wrenches, chisels and sledgehammers. 

The electrical system was also scheduled for removal.  Power in this area had been turned off and the maintenance staff had instructed us as to where we could cut the power cables leading to the river without a negative effect on the remaining lights.  One of the volunteers who was an electrician accomplished this task easily while others of the group started removal of the waterproof lights and cables leading from the river.

 Work continued with materials removed from the boat dock area and carried to an area just before the Sands of the Sahara area.  As this pile grew some people began moving the material to another storage area near River Hall.  This process continued Monday and Tuesday.  Many trips were made back and forth through the cave carrying pieces of stairway, electrical cables, waterproof lights and some wet soggy wood. The stair and wiring removal was essentially finished by Tuesday evening.

 On Wednesday the major task was to remove the materials that had been stored in River Hall out through Sparks Avenue to Mammoth Dome and from there up the fire tower and out to the entrance of the cave.  When the material had been moved to Mammoth Dome the entire group formed a chain gang up the stairs to the base of the fire tower and everything was moved up the stairs.  Next another chain gang was formed up the fire tower and the process was repeated.  Finally everyone made several trips from the top of the fire tower to the entrance stairs to get all the material to the base of the entrance stairs.

 Thursday saw minor cleanup of the stairway removal area and the start of removal of the first (or last depending on your point of view) bridge.   As significant silting had occurred in this area, the first task was to find the end of the bridge. The top of the silt pile was six or more feet above the bridge deck. The first attempt at moving the silt was jumping from the top of the pile and sliding down it pushing the silt ahead while sliding.  While fun, this was soon abandoned as non-productive and the old fashioned method of shovels and manpower was employed to move tons of silt to find the end of the bridge. A small portion of the bridge was dismantled.


Text Box:  Friday brought the clean-up day where all of the bridge material from Thursday was removed to the cave entrance and the accumulated pile from the weeks activities was moved up the entrance stairway to park service truck for removal and disposal.  Project tools were removed from the cave and returned to the maintenance storage area and another Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp came to an end.



 1998 marked the 10th annual field camp. Work continued along Echo River Trail with bridge removal the primary objective for the first two days.  John Vargo had invented and manufactured two tools over the past winter that greatly aided the removal of the support beams of the bridge.  Additional work in the Silliman Avenue area of the cave was conducted later in the week.


Text Box:  Several of the crew had to leave camp by mid-week  due to prior commitments and the reduced number of people did create some problems in the removal of materials up the stairs and firetower at the Ruins of Karnak as well as at the entrance stairway.

An evening trip to Great Onyx Cave was scheduled during the week for those who hadn’t seen this cave as well as those who wanted to see it again. It’s always a nice place to visit.

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Even though short handed, those remaining at camp accomplished a formidable task in the removal of bridge materials that had been accumulated so far this week.  There is still plenty of bridge left for future camps and it would appear that the work is progressing on schedule.

 This years’ camp was a success even though the manpower was less than desired.  All who attended had some fun while working and many will return next year.


 The 11th annual Restoration Field Camp at Mammoth Cave began on Sunday evening August 8th.

 The continuing major project for the field camp is the removal of the wooden bridges along Echo River Trail in the cave. On Monday we started in to the cave with about 28 eager participants carrying tools and ready to attack the bridges.

 Due to the limited space at the end of the bridge only a few at a time were actually able to work on dismantling the bridge structure while the rest carried bridge pieces down the trail to a work area where the decking and beams were cut into smaller pieces and bagged.  The bags were then carried from the work area to a storage area near River Hall.

 While some were dismantling the bridge, others were removing the PVC waterpipe along side the bridge and still others were removing the old electrical wiring.  In total about 60 feet of bridge was dismantled and quite a bit more of the PVC pipe and wiring was removed.


Text Box:  The majority of the material was moved to the River Hall staging area with some left at a high area about halfway between the end of the bridge and  River Hall.  The intent was to insure all of the material was stored above the flood zone and that most would be accessible to those working on the weekend camps when the high water would prevent further dismantling of the bridge.

On Wednesday afternoon two educational trips were scheduled for the group.  The majority went on the easier trip following the Violet City lantern tour route while about seven went on a seven and one-half hour loop trip at the elevator entrance to view a part of the cave no longer shown on tours.


Text Box:  Thursday evening we were treated to an after hours tour of Diamond Caverns which has recently changed owners and is now owned by a partnership of five caver families. They are Mr & Mrs Gary Berdeau, Mr & Mrs Gordon Smith,  Mr & Mrs Stan Sides, Mr & Mrs Larry McCarty and Mr & Mrs Roger McClure.


Friday we spent the final day on the Cascade Hall side of the river moving material stored at Valley Way Side Cut to Ole Bulls’ Concert hall again to move the material above the high water line so it could be removed on the weekend camps when the water was up.

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Friday evening the NPS held a cookout at Maple Springs for us and provided a great meal which everyone appreciated.

It was a week of hard work but it felt good to help in the restoration of a part of the longest cave in the world.  There was lots of fun and fellowship and a good time was had by all.

The October weekend trip removed all of the material that was staged by the summer field camp participants.



  Text Box:  Sunday August 5th, 2000 was the start of the 12th annual Mammoth Cave Restoration Field camp.  The first official event was supper on Sunday evening followed by the Camp Director, Norm Rogers, providing a welcome and outline of the project schedule for the coming week.  Next John Fry, the NPS project administrator, gave us a welcome from the park service and covered the safety rules we were to observe during the project. Finally John Vargo explained the history and use of the Vargo tools used to bridge pilings. We had a record attendance with 43 people on hand for the start of this years’ camp.


The major objective of this year’s camp is a continuation of work started two years ago and is a part of the Mammoth Cave Historic Entrance Ecotone project.

The removal of the Bridge to Echo River is being done for two reasons. The first is an attempt to restore the area to a condition approximating its original condition before modification by man.  The second reason, and the more significant one, is to remove the bridge materials, which consist primarily of creosote treated timbers, from the water.  The creosote is not a normal part of the cave eco-system and undoubtedly is causing some damage to the cave inhabitants.  It is expected that after the project is finished the cave environment will be much better for tits aquatic inhabitants.

Monday we entered via the Historic Entrance about 9AM. The majority of the people headed to the end of the bridge to see what it looked like.  We stationed one group at Vanderbilt Hall where power was available.  This area contained some posts that needed to be cut down to fit in the bags for removal.  An electric chainsaw was used here to cut the posts. The Nelson family spent the majority of their time here cutting, bagging and stacking  wood . The creosote fumes were quite strong from the freshly cut wood.


Text Box:  Two people were assigned as a repair crew to attempt to patch the holes in the existing bridge deck with pieces of plywood.  As the bridge was another year older,  there were several new  areas that had been broken through since the last repair attempt.  Hopefully the repairs will last until the repaired areas are removed as we work our way back from the river removing the bridge.

Another area was setup on a sandbank not too far from the bridge end where the bridge timbers could be sawed into manageable pieces.  In this location we were using battery powered Sawsall’s since the power to this area had been shut off when we began the removal project two years ago.


Text Box:  We had three people in wet suits in the water that were dismantling the bridge piece by piece. An additional 4 people were at the bridge end and/or on the bank beside the bridge assisting with the removal process. 

An additional crew was removing lighting wire, handrail and PVC water pipe from the bridge and along the bank beside the bridge.

All remaining personnel were hauling the removed material from the cutting station to the rise at Lake Lethe or from the rise at Lake Lethe to the storage and cutting area at Vanderbilt hall.


At the end of the first day approximately 37 feet of bridge had been dismantled.

Day two started on Tuesday with a group photo at the Historic Entrance and then proceeded much as it had on Monday.  Productivity was enhanced with everybody now knowing to do and how to do it.   We removed an additional 24 feet of bridge by lunchtime. It was then that we discovered that we had run out of haul bags.  This put a major crimp in the project design. While we were out of the cave for lunch,   Norm and John discussed the options and a plan was formulated.

The original plan was to leave the bags in the cave for the weekend trips to haul out. However, since we had six hundred bags of material in the cave on one side or the other of the river and no more bags available it was decided that a haul out was necessary.   Step one was to move all accumulated material from the rise at Lake Lethe to Vanderbilt hall.  Next all of the bagged material was moved to the steps at the base of the fire tower.


Text Box:  A chaingang was formed up the steps from Mammoth Dome to the bottom of the firetower and the bags were moved up the steps.  The area normally used to stack the bags became full and additional areas were used.  This indicates that we now had more bags the bottom of the firetower than ever before. 



We had to clear the way for a tour that arrived when almost all of the bags had been moved up.   After the tour cleared the firetower another chaingang was formed up the firetower and we started moving bags again.  We quit for the day at 4:30 with about two thirds of the bags moved up to Little Bat Avenue.

Wednesday’s project was to get the material out of the cave. We started again on the firetower moving the remaining bags up to Little Bat Avenue.  We had brought in four wheelbarrows to assist in moving the bags from Little Bat Avenue to the Historic Entrance stairs. The bags were all at the stairs by lunchtime.  It was decided not to move them up the stairs until about 2:30 to minimize interference with the Discovery tour.  Additionally the truck to remove the bags would not be available until 3:30.  After lunch the group returned to Vanderbilt hall to remove the PVC pipe as some other materials that still remained there.

At around 2:30 we formed another chaingang up the entrance stairs and moved all the bags to the surface.  John Fry then left and returned with the truck about 3:30.  The truck was loaded, driven to the Boneyard, emptied, returned, loaded, emptied, returned, loaded and emptied a third time before the day ended.

A free private tour of Diamond Caverns was scheduled for 5PM and many of the field camp participants attended this tour.  This is a well-decorated cave and all that attended the trip were pleased to see such a nice commercial cave.

Thursday was planned as a recreational caving day.  Joe Meiman and Chuck DeCroix guided twelve people on a Colossal – Bedquilt through trip.  The majority of the remaining people accompanied John Fry on a trip in the Carmichael Entrance and out the Frozen Niagara entrance following the half-day tour route.   Several people took advantage of Dave Fosters’ offer for a free tour of Hidden River Cave and the ACCA museum.


Text Box:  Friday was to be a half-day working on the bridge followed by a clean up and tool removal after lunch.   Well, it just didn’t happen as planned.  The river was up.

It must have rained some where upstream from Mammoth because the Green River rose about eight feet overnight.  We all went into the cave to see if we could get to the work area.  The bottom steps to the first, stainless steel, bridge were under water. The river gauge at this location indicated 11.5 feet.  The gauge at Green River Ferry had been 4.1 feet on Tuesday.  The water was too high to safely return to the work area and all of the tools and equipment left there were probably underwater.  They would be abandoned until the river went down.


So with almost a day left and 40+ cavers looking for work we headed to the Elevator Entrance to work on the other side if Echo River.  Material had been moved from Cascade Hall to Ole’ Bulls Concert Hall on the April weekend trip.

We were to move these bags from Ole’ Bull about halfway out of the cave to an area now called Pam’s Paradise where Pam Saberton had broken her leg on the April trip.  This was accomplished by early afternoon and work for this years’ field camp came to an end.


Text Box:  Friday evening we enjoyed a cookout hosted by the NPS followed by the Monroe Brothers annual awards ceremony.  Sack Rat of the Year was awarded to Roy “If that’s your real name” VanHooser, the Sack Pack award was given to the Nelson Family, a special Nancy Bag award was given to Nancy Friend and the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Larry Reece.  This concluded this years Field Camp.  On Saturday trips had been arraigned for caves outside of the park for those who wanted more caving on the way home. Several planned to visit either Indian Cave or Roppel Cave.


The week after camp when the water had gone down some, Joe Meiman and John Fry  went to the work area to retrieve the tools. The following is Johns’ account of this event. “At first glance it was a pretty bad scene. Both saws and both lanterns had been submerged, most of the tools were soaked and in the early stages of rust, and the drill was nowhere to be found. Fortunately 5 of 6 saw batteries had escaped to higher ground. Looked downstream toward Sands of the Sahara and saw a white case floating on the foam... the first-aid kit. Donned the wetsuit to go retrieve it and found a various assortment of plywood, grass sacks, garbage bags, a full roll of duct tape (in addition to the thousand and one uses it also apparently floats!), and the closed drill case with a dry drill inside. Brought all the critical equipment out of the cave immediately, hosed 'em down, cleaned em up, dried everything out, and charged the various batteries. Much to my amazement the saws and lanterns are working fine... at least for the time being. The only loss seems to be one battery which now sloshes like a can of Chicken and Stars soup. In the end, water was probably only 12-18 inches above the level of Chop Shop #1. Joe said he checked and the "flood" was not attributable to anything the Corps did up at Green River Dam. Just a quick, heavy rainfall upstream.”

 What will next year bring?  Well, several hundred feet of bridge still needs to be removed so you can be sure we’ll be back if the river isn’t up. The smell of creosote lingers in my mind as a reminder that what we have done and will do has and will improve the habitat of those who dwell in eternal darkness along Echo River Trail. I hope to see you all at Mammoth Cave next year.                                                    .                                           

One hundred  seventy six participants to date have come from 23 states with the majority coming from the mid-western states.  Seventy five have attended more than once.  We have also had participants from Canada, England, Gibraltar, the Netherlands and Hungary.  A participants list follows:

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