Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp


Camp Started on Sunday August 15 and ended Saturday August 21, 1993. Sunday afternoon those who had arrived and were interested went to the Elevator Entrance for some preliminary work for this weeks activities. Materials stored at the elevator were taken down into the cave and moved to the Snowball Dining Room. Then we moved all of the picnic tables down Cleveland Avenue and away from the dining room area. Sunday evening brought the usual introductions and information presented by Norm Rogers, camp coordinator and Bob Ward, Park Cultural Resource Specialist who was also the NPS person in charge of the Field Camp.

After the meeting many of us went to the Historic Entrance for we were fortunate to start camp on the same day as the annual Church Revisited program was held. A non-denominational church group that presents church services in National Parks was conducting a service this evening in the Methodist Church area of Mammoth Cave. This free event was a recreation of the type of services that had been held in the cave in its earlier years. Walking into the cave with lanterns, assembling in the Methodist Church area with a preacher high above and a choir below holding candles was an inspiring sight. A couple of songs were sung, a short sermon was heard and we went out the way we had entered. This historic recreation of past events in the cave left us with a warm feeling of appreciation and satisfaction in having participated.

Monday we all went to the Elevator Entrance and down to the Snowball Dining Room for instructions on the main project for this year. This project was the cleaning of the ceiling of the Snowball Dining Room frequently referred to as the Sootball Dining Room because of the darkened condition of the ceiling. A study conducted by Ozark Underground Laboratories had determined the cause was mainly a fungus growing on the material accumulated over the years on the gypsum snowballs. Testing showed the least harmful and most successful method of removal was spraying the ceiling with normal household bleach followed a few hours later with a clean water rinse. The first task was to spread black plastic under the area to be cleaned, mark off grids on the plastic with masking tape and cover this with a layer of clear plastic to contain any runoff, drips and spills. A demonstration of the use of garden sprayers to apply the bleach and water was given. Workers had to wear protective tyvek suits, rubber gloves and full face respirators as protection from the bleach. Ten people were chosen to work this project while the rest returned to the surface for other projects.

After an early lunch, those not chosen for the Snowball project went in the Historic Entrance and proceeded to Great Relief Hall where a reported dump behind the restrooms was investigated and six people remained to remove the materials found. The rest headed for Echo River checking for wood along the way. After a look at the river they returned and began bagging up more wet rotten wood in the water and along Echo River Trail. When everyone had a bag full of wood they all headed out to the Mammoth Dome staging area, dropped off the wood and exited the cave finishing work for today.

Evening brought a slide show, talk and demonstration on the development of caves by Field Camp member John Marquart. It also revealed several people with bleach burns as the seams on the tyvek suits were leaking and removal of the face masks (without rinsing) caused some minor transfer of bleach from the masks to various parts of the anatomy.

Tuesday brought a rush order to the supplier of the tyvek suits for suits with sealed seams to eliminate the leakage problems while the Snowball crew did the best they could with duct tape patching of the current suits. The river rats returned to the Echo River Trail and continued to remove the remains of former handrails and bridges from the water, bag the wood up and haul it to a staging area in River Hall. The vertical people rigged a rope in an area high above the water just beyond River Hall and removed wood from the water below. Matt Reece dropped Steve Gentrys bolt hammer in the water, lost it (it's still there somewhere) and of course was severely chastised (by anyone and everyone).

In the afternoon we formed a chain gang up the stairs at River Hall into Sparks Avenue. From there we hauled the bags of wood to the staging area at Mammoth Dome before calling it a day.

The evening brought video tapes from TV stations of prior years Field Camps and other cave related videos that participants had brought to camp with them.

Wednesday the entire crew formed a chain gang up the stairs at Mammoth Dome and then up the firetower and moved the pile of bags and other stuff into Little Bat Avenue. The Snowball crew then left for the Elevator Entrance to resume their project. Penny Hibbard was dubbed the Porcelain Princess for having carried a urinal from Great Relief Hall to the Fire Tower. It was reported she told the tourists we encountered that we had to bring our own toilets to work with us. Next we moved the stuff from Little Bat Avenue to the entrance stairs. When all of the material was at the base of the entrance stairs we chain ganged it up and out. Next a lunch break and then back into the cave for more of the same. After lunch a couple more hours of bagging wood and hauling it to River Hall pretty well wore us out so most called it a day early and headed back to camp.

At the Snowball project Ken Janice bleached a bat hiding in a crevice where he couldn't see it. It complained and flew away (we hope it was OK). While Larry Matiz was spraying the ceiling a large crust of gypsum came loose and fell to the floor. As far as we know these were the only detrimental effects of the Snowball project and were not significant in view of the final results of the project although they did cause some unhappiness to those involved.

Following supper there was a showing of a National Geographic video on Caves, some tall tales, lie swapping and a nice bed after a hard day for most.

Thursday was a scheduled half work day with the Snowball crew finishing up on the prior days activities and the rest moving the accumulated debris in River Hall up to Little Bat Avenue for final removal on Friday. This afternoon Bob Ward led an easy reward trip to Gothic and Gratz Avenues off of Main Cave. For the harder trip 14 people went once again to see Floyd's Lost Passage entering the cave around 1:30 PM. At about 4 PM disaster struck! While negotiating Straddle Canyon, a foothold broke away and John Marquart fell a short distance dislocating his shoulder.

The group moved John a short distance to a small flat area, assessed the situation and determined a rescue was needed. They were far into the cave and a difficult crawlway lay between the accident site and the exit. It was decided four people would stay with John and the remainder left all of their spare supplies and exited the cave at top speed. The park authorities were notified at around 6 PM and the rescue process was started.

It was necessary to get a medical doctor to John to administer a sedative, relocate and immobilize the shoulder and then administer a stimulant to cancel the effects of the sedative. It was probably sometime early Friday morning before this had been accomplished. A significant number of people were involved in one way or another before the ordeal was over. This included park personnel from rangers to ferry drivers to even the lawn mowing crew who were used in the commercial trail part of the cave. Of course the field camp cavers as well as other area cavers were also involved.

After the shoulder had been relocated and with the cavers and park people assisting, John slowly made his way toward the entrance. After many hours in the cave John and the rescue party eventually reached Scotchmans Trap and the tourist trail. There he was placed in a stokes litter and carried to the entrance (this of course would have been the easiest part of the cave for John to navigate with his injury.) He refused to let them carry him out of the cave and walked up the entrance stairs into the bright sunlight at 11:24 AM on Friday August 20, 1993. A seven hour fun trip had turned into a 22 hour ordeal.

The accident was just that, an accident. It could have happened to anyone at any time. There is no blame to be placed, no person who is responsible, no evidence of unsafe practices, just a plain old accident.

Friday - well this had started off as Thursday - a very long day after all. After John had been loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital we were all transported to the incident command center for a brief exit interview and from there headed back to Maple Springs for showers , unwinding and sleep. John arrived back from the hospital around 5 PM. He had been x-rayed, examined, medicated, bandaged and told he would likely live and he should see his family physician as soon as possible upon returning home.

Saturday and no reward trips this year although its unlikely anyone was in the mood anyway. Bob Ward came to Maple Springs and conducted interviews with everyone individually. Details of each interview were recorded for inclusion in the final incident report that The Park Service would prepare. After the interviews we headed home having still accomplished most of what had been planned. We did leave a pile of materials in Little Bat Avenue (planned for Fridays removal) which was taken care of on the fall weekend clean up trip.