Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp


By Larry Reece

The 13th Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp began on Sunday evening August 5th, 2001. This year promises to be a record year with about 40 people in camp on Sunday and a total of 50 people expected to participate by the weeks end. Following supper, John Fry the NPS Field Camp project manager and Norm Rogers, Camp Director gave an overview of what we would be doing in the cave along with the required safety instructions for the project.

Monday found a lot of new participants along with a fair amount of old timers eager to get into the cave and go to work. The project was organized the same as last year with work starting on the end of the bridge. Next the wood was carried to chop shop number one located a short distance down the passage from the bridge end. Here the wood was cut into shorter pieces to be hauled down the passage to the first staging area at Lake Lethe rise.

Chop shop number two was established at Vanderbuilt Hall where the wood was cut into smaller pieces and placed into plastic bags inside of grass sacks and stacked for eventual for removal from the cave.

We had people working at the bridge end, chop shop number one, hauling wood from chop shop number one to Lake Lethe rise, hauling wood from Lake Lethe Rise to Vanderbuilt Hall and cutting and bagging at chop shop number two.

Everybody seemed to find something to do without a lot of direction necessary. People swapped off and tried different jobs whenever they needed a change and everything seemed to work out quite well.

By Monday evening a new record was established with 107 feet of bridge dismantled and a whole lot of wood removed from the working face and moved to the various staging areas in the cave.

Tuesday morning the Green River was up 0.8 feet from the previous day but it had no effect on the work as the working end of the bridge was currently in the silt and away from any water at this time.

We had our only significant injury around 9:30am today when Brett Bennett snagged the ceiling with a long board he was carrying and twisted his neck. He was convinced to go to the hospital for an x-ray which disclosed that it was only a sprain so he assumed light duty in the kitchen for a couple of days. The only other participant injuries this week were scrapes, scratches and sore muscles.

Tuesday another 24 feet of bridge was removed before we ran out of grass sacks. There were reported to be about 900 grass sacks in the cave (all filled with wood). It was decided to move all accumulated wood at the working end of the bridge and chop shop number one to the rise at Lake Lethe. Part of the group also began moving bagged wood from chop shop number two at Vanderbuilt Hall to the staging area at Mammoth Dome.

Wednesday was to be a haul out day. The Green River was up another 0.6 feet at 4.3 but we wouldn’t be near the river in the cave today and even if we had been it was still low enough not to cause us any problems. The first order of business was to move all bagged wood from the rise at Lake Lethe to chop shop number two and all of the bagged wood at chop shop number two to the staging area at the stairs at Mammoth Dome.

When all of the bagged wood was at Mammoth Dome it was decided that we had enough people to chain gang the wood all the way up the stairs and up the fire tower to Little Bat Avenue. There are 42 steps from Mammoth Dome to the fire tower, 66 steps on the fire tower and 30 steps above the fire tower for a total of 138 steps. With people staged 2 to 3 steps apart we began the movement of 900 bags of bridge debris up the stairs and fire tower.

With occasional comments of “heavy” or “nail” the bags proceeded up the tower. After a while a sign reading “Mammoth Dome 192 Feet” was passed up the tower. Another hundred or so bags and up came a teddy bear, followed a few hundred bags later by a bra (owners name withheld to protect the guilty). Finally the call came to exit the cave for lunch with several hundred bags still at the bottom.

Following lunch everybody returned to the cave to continue the chain gang. Another hundred bags or so and up came a bottle of wine (actually it was blackberry juice not wine), I don’t know how it got up the tower without someone opening it and at least tasting it.

When all of the bags had arrived at Little Bat Avenue we called it a day and exited the cave for an early supper and an evening Educational Trip to Great Onyx Cave for those who still had the strength to do more caving.

Thursday morning was overcast with a threat of rain. Todays objective was to move all the bagged wood from Little Bat Avenue to the base of the entrance stairs and then chain gang it up and out of the cave to a waiting park service truck for disposal. The bags were carried by hand and by wheel barrows that we had carried into the cave on Wednesday. Soon there was a steady stream of people hauling bags and pushing wheel barrows from the end of Little Bat Avenue to the stairs at the Historic Entrance.

When all the bags were at the entrance a chaingang was formed up the stairs and the bags were moved up and out of the cave. The bags were dumped into a waiting truck and hauled away for disposal. The truck had to make three trips to remove all of the material. This was all accomplished by lunch time.

We returned to the cave about 12:30pm to move material from the rise at Lake Lethe to Vanderbuilt Hall. Shortly after we resumed work a televison crew from a local PBS station entered the cave and conducted interviews with Norm and Chris Rogers. They then went to the end of the bridge for some filming of The bridge crew art work. Everybody was out of the cave by 4:45pm.

Friday was the group photo day and we gathered at the Historic Entrance for the picture. There were 63 people in the photo and 68 names on the camp roster including the NPS and SCA people. It was truly a record year both in the number of participants and the amount of work accomplished. This was a wrap-up day with some more wood moved to Vanderbuilt Hall and cut and bagged there. All the loose wood at the river level was moved to the rise at Lake Lethe. Tools were collected and stored at Vanderbuilt Hall or removed from the cave. Another week of restoration had come to an end.

Friday evening the NPS hosted a cook out for the participants and the annual awards ceremony followed the meal. John Fry announced that the total for the week was a record 178 feet of bridge dismantled and the majority of it removed from the cave.

Awards this year were: Sackrat of the year – Joe Marchese, Rookie Sackrat of the year - Alia Smith, Sack Pack 2001 – The Friend Family, Mule Team Award – Todd Richards and Jamie Winner, Lifetime Achievement Award – Larry Matiz, Comeback Sacker 2001 – Pam Saberton, Peoples Choice Award – Mike Domanski, runners up – Bonnie Curnock, Rick Williams and Ken De Jonge. In addition, special awards for the best laugh in camp went to Kristen Ringman and the street urchin award went to Kevin Betz. Special Monroe Brothers hats were awarded to Norm Rogers, Chris Rogers, Larry Reece, Steve Petruniak, Bonnie Curnock, Bob Ward and Joe Meiman.

Following a short speech by Lee Davis, Norm Rogers was given a mason jar of a clear liquid reported to have originated not too far from Mammoth Cave. Norm plans have the liquid tested upon his return to Peoria or maybe he said HE was going to test it? We can expect a report at the next Restoration Event in November.

Mary Lee Davis and Bob Ward handed out Mammoth Cave Volunteer shirts to all of the participants. Each person also received a souvenir piece of handrail from the bridge to conclude this years awards ceremony.

Educational Trips were scheduled for Saturday to Dixon Cave, Wondering Woods Cave and the Austin Entrance. About 25 to 30 people went on the Dixon Cave trip, 20 went on the Wondering Woods trip and officially 14 went on the Austin Entrance trip. A recreational trip outside of the park to Roppel Cave was enjoyed by another 4 to 6 people.

It hardly seems possible that we have been doing restoration work in Mammoth Cave as a group for thirteen years. The contributions of each of the participants is really appreciated no matter how large or how small. Every board, every bag, every piece of material moved and removed from the cave as well as the work of other park personnel and our cooks over the years contributes to the ultimate success of the project.

I’m sure I’ll look forward to making it fourteen years and I hope to see many of you there next year also.