Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp


Another Great Camp at Mammoth Cave! By: Roy Vanhoozer, 8/11/2005

This year's camp was destined to be special. With any luck at all the demolition of the bridge in the Echo River Passage would finally be completed. Then there would be a party on Friday evening to celebrate the bridge's demise and John Vargo (the creator of the famed Vargo Tool used to pull up the bridge piles) would be present to enjoy it with us. The Green River was even cooperating; perhaps cooperating just a little too well. The water level in the Green River was the lowest I have ever seen. The ferry was closed and some camp members were actually walking/wading across the Green River in lieu of the 45 minute drive around! The water in the Echo River was also very low and this was very provident for the work we had to do in the cave.

Camp began with the traditional Sunday night welcome supper. This year we had 51 volunteers registered for camp. About 35 were veterans of one or more previous camps. After the sumptuous meal, prepared by Patti and Shawn Horton, our camp chefs (Thanks!) we had a short meeting to talk about the week's goals, agenda and extracurricular activities. Rick Olson from the National Park Service then discussed safety, rules and working in the cave.

Monday morning we all gathered at the historic entrance and carried in the tools we needed. We brought a long tape and measured the remaining bridge: 130 feet. People broke up into the usual groups: one at the chop shop, the bridge crew, the carriers and a small crew that gathered sand to fill in potholes and mud slicks just below Lake Lethe. Demolition began and wood started moving up to Vanderbilt at a good clip. John Vargo was in the water and having a great time yanking out the boards and posts. At the end of the work day approximately 65 feet of bridge had been demolished and removed to Vanderbilt where it was cut up and bagged. After getting cleaned up and eating supper, we were regaled with caving videos by the camp's movie maestro John Kirk.

Tuesday we continued the bridge demolition. Just after lunch the acting Superintendent, Bruce Powell and his staff visited the work site and chatted with volunteers and posed for pictures. Later in the afternoon we realized we were close to the last span of wooden bridge left. We decided to leave it for Wednesday so everyone working could be there to see the last piece come up. Tuesday night we had pizza and salad at one of the park shelters in the picnic area. Afterwards, most volunteers drove back to Maple Springs, but a small group went caving to Dogwood and Adwell caves in Hamilton Valley near CRF.

On Wednesday at approximately 2 PM central time the last bridge pile was removed by a beaming John Vargo and Larry Matiz! There was a lot of hollering and picture taking and everyone was ecstatic. Ken DeJonge took many pictures that will be on the CD he sends out and we will get some on the website also. Finally after all these years it was done. Thanks to the hundreds of volunteers, past and present who made this happen and who made a difference! Because all of you and the thousands of hours of volunteer restoration work, the Echo River is a much cleaner environment and will again become a thriving place for all the cave biota that once called it home.

Wednesday night we had hamburgers and hotdogs grilled at the picnic shelter at the park. Many thanks to the chefs, as this was a last minute logistical move because of the ferry closure. Afterwards, we went on cave trips to New Discovery and to Great Onyx which were much enjoyed by all. On Thursday, we went into the water of Echo River pulling up old wood, metal and PVC pipes and all kinds of artifacts. We had at least 4 boat paddles, old bottles, a 10 foot piece of logging chain, part of an old lamp, and an old sunken boat that the archaeologists will research. The low water in the passage made it ideal conditions for finding these artifacts and also removing wood and other debris. Thursday evening after dinner, Rick Olson showed us slides of his Castleguard Cave trip in Canada. An awesome cave where just getting to the cave is an adventure in itself.

Friday we continued pulling wood out of Echo River. We will probably be doing this for some time to come. A large stack of wood, apparently unused and just dumped or maybe accidentally lost into the river was found quite a ways down the passage. It will take a lot of work to remove this material. We worked all morning and at noon we gathered up all tools and headed out, our work finished for this week. Vanderbilt is filled with around 900 bags of wood and a huge pile of cut wood waiting for bags (we filled all available bags).

Friday night was the party to celebrate the successful end of the bridge project. We had quite a few guests come to help celebrate. There were veterans from previous camps, Superintendent Bruce Powell, Bob Ward, Rick Olson and Rick's boss Mark Depoy. Steve Ormeroid, Admin. Vice President of the NSS also joined us. A large group of John Vargo's friends also attended to see him honored by the NPS and the camp. After a fantastic meal of ribs and chicken, we moved outside for the awards ceremony. Rick Olson presented every volunteer with a mug, an NPS volunteer hat and a cedar trophy he made. The metal mugs are emblazoned with the NPS and NSS logos and are inscribed " 2005 Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp 17 years of blood, sweat and cheer." Pam Saberton was awarded a special larger cedar trophy made by Rick in recognition of her dedication to the camp. Todd Richards was presented the "Sack Rat of the Year" award. This year's sack rat trophy was a cast model of a cartoon rat in caving attire that was created by Eric Buckelew. Thanks Eric!

Next, a beautifully drawn and framed portrait of John Vargo by the preeminent cave artist and camp volunteer Bonnie Curnock, was unveiled and presented to John. He was very surprised and happy. The Superintendent then presented to the Restoration Camp a beautiful plaque inscribed "Mammoth Cave National Park recognizes the many fine volunteers at Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camps held since 1989 for their exceptional public service and the many hours of conservation work in Mammoth Cave National Park. Given this fifth day of August, two thousand and five at the 17th annual Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp." The Superintendent then presented a beautifully carved arrowhead plaque to John Vargo inscribed "Mammoth Cave National Park and National Speleological Society's Mammoth Cave Restoration Committee honor John Vargo for dedicated service and exceptional commitment to cave conservation at Mammoth Cave National Park Given this fifth day of August, two thousand and five at the 17th annual Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp." John was visibly moved by all this and everyone was glad to see him honored in this way.

There was one last award given. A German bicyclist named Katrin had shown up at Maple Springs on Monday night looking for a place to camp. She had bicycled down from Canada and wanted to see Mammoth Cave. The camp adopted her and she became a volunteer working in the cave for the rest of the week. A hard worker and a pleasant person, she made many friends and had a great time and even said she would come back next year. The camp purchased a Kemper map of Mammoth Cave and everyone at camp signed it. She was given the map, a volunteer hat, mug and cedar trophy as a fellow volunteer.

Saturday morning everyone assembled for the educational trips. This year was very special…. Floyd Collin's Crystal Cave! After 12 years of not being allowed in the cave (since the disastrous trip and rescue in 1993) the camp was being allowed access to the cave again. 12 carefully screened volunteers were taken on an 11 hour trip to Floyd's Lost Passage, the same trip that had resulted in the rescue in 1993. All other volunteers toured the upper part of Crystal Cave all the way to Scotchman's Trap. Everyone had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Thanks again to all the volunteers that worked in this year's camp and made it such a pleasure and so much fun. I especially want to thank those that worked behind the scenes to make this such a great camp for everyone. Patti and Shawn of course…you are so good to us! Kevin Betz for his organizational expertise on the bridge, the beer run and keeping me straight at the awards; Larry and Linda Bundy, Rick Williams, Todd Richards, and Larry Matiz for coming early and helping get camp ready for us all. See you in November for the tower pass!