Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp
July 23-30 2006
By Shari and Preston Forsythe
With additions from Frank Henry Green, Larry Matiz, and Roy Vanhoozer
This was an excellent week doing volunteer work at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We had 42 participants from twelve states. The maximum number of 45 had signed up but at the last minute 3 dropped out. Once again the ESSO Grotto had the largest number of cavers there. These are the states that were represented: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The cavers attending were: Kitty Albee, Julie and Mike Angel, Kevin Betz, Eric Buckelew, Larry and Linda Bundy, Dan Carlson, Bill Copeland, Bonnie Curnock, Ken and Corey DeJonge, Joe Diaz, Preston and Shari Forsythe, David Frazier, Tony Groves, Shawn and Patti Horton, Marti Jacobs, Karen Kennedy, John Kirk, Keith Kuhlman, Jonathan Lewis, Craig and Deborah Luehr, Dawn Margrabe, Larry Matiz, Paul Mihalak, Steve Petruniak, Everett Pulliam, Dana and Abby Rea, Beth Reinke, Todd Richards, Pam Saberton, Roy Vanhoozer, Mark Walker, Charles Waller, Sue Whittaker, Rick and Dan Williams. It was quite a group!
Sunday, July 23 everyone gathered throughout the day, socializing and awaiting our opening meal, prepared by our favorite camp chefs, Patti and Shawn Horton. It was good to see so many old friends. Many Restoration Camp cavers have been coming to this weeklong event for years. There is always room for new cavers, but it is a good idea to sign up in advance. Roy Vanhoozer is our NSS Restoration Camp leader and Rick Olson is the Mammoth Cave National Park representative. Both of these folks are fine people, easy and fun to work for and with. After we ate the first of many great meals, Roy and Rick gave us a safety briefing. We were ready to go to work.
Monday we worked in Cascade Hall via El Ghor removing creosote wood flood debris, electrical fixtures, and cable. The old boardwalk was basically removed last year but there will still be odds and ends of creosote debris floating around for several years, with each rise and fall of the river. This is a great opportunity to see Echo River. Very few go here anymore, not even CRF members. We worked hard and some people figured they walked 10½ miles in the cave on Monday. How many people do that on a regular basis besides Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp members? After supper many watched caving movies, some did some rope climbing, and others went kayaking on the Green River. The air conditioned bunk house felt really comfortable and after the hard work and excitement of the day, we slept well.
Tuesday we went to Echo River from the Historic Entrance and removed more creosote wood flood debris. Several cavers wore wet suits. With the aid of spotters standing above on the old trail, they removed debris from the river and from along the bank and passed it up to waiting hands. We put it in bags and carried it to Vanderbilt Hall. In the vicinity of the old boat docks the treated posts we spotted last year are now almost buried in sand. We still hope to get those out of the cave some day.
Tuesday evening Frank Henry Green and Keven Neff gave our group a hands-on presentation of torch making including a talk about the history of torch throwing on cave tours of yesteryear. The last torches were thrown in the cave on the tours around 1991. Frank had some of his home-made torch sticks and torch buckets for sale and several people bought these for mementos. Then, some of us got the opportunity to throw the torches out on the road. The sound of the torches swooshing through the air and the length of time that they burned made many of us realize how incredible this display must have been on a cave tour. But, too, we realize the burning torches added a lot of smoke to the cave, which is not at all natural. It was really special for us to have Frank and Keven come to camp and exchange memories about the old times and their years as guides at Mammoth Cave. Our group owes Larry Matiz a big "thanks" for inviting Frank Henry and Keven to talk to the camp.
On Wednesday some of us worked on lint clean up in main cave, others worked on removing old electrical stuff from the vicinity of Echo River and a third group removed trash and debris from the Ruins of Karnak area near and under the fire tower. We have a new respect for lint removal. This does make a difference as each half day that we did lint removal we picked up approximately 50 pounds of lint. Plus, we picked up a lot of small trash items like gum wrappers, flash bulbs, and small bits of paper.
That night Frank Henry Green, with Keven Neff as the tail gunner and comic relief, led us on the Violet City Lantern Tour. Frank and Keven really hammed it up the way old guides and old friends can do. Frank Henry has been retired for several years and we know he enjoyed telling us his stories once again. They liked to tell us the difference between The Scientific Truth and The Old Guide's Truth as each applied to various features on the Violet City tour.
As we approached the Violet City Entrance Frank Henry gathered the group up close so he could talk to everyone. He presented Rick and Colleen Olson with a walnut torch stick engraved with their names on it, which he had signed. They both loved that. Then, he gave Larry Matiz a torch bucket with Mammoth Cave embroidered on the strap. Larry was so happy and we were all touched by these gifts. Next, Frank Henry requested that one of us lead the group in singing Amazing Grace. He called out for Dan Williams, who stepped up and did a wonderful job as choir leader. The sound was marvelous in the cave. It was a fine end to our very memorable Violet City Lantern Tour.
Frank Henry Green read a draft of this write up and in his e mail reply he said:
"I will always owe you all, because it was a kind of dream come true for me, a huge debt for asking me to guide the VCLT. I can not express in words how much I value having the opportunity to meet with you and have the pleasure of doing something that I love doing…I don't think I properly passed along my thanks to the group as we were closing the tour at Violet City. I intended to say several things that I did not include:
1. One thing I attempted to include all the way through the tour was about [how] the Violet City Lantern Tour is in keeping with the 'Tradition of the old guides at Mammoth Cave.' One reason I love that tour so much is because of that rich tradition that has been handed down through the old guides for almost two hundred years. I sincerely hope that 'Tradition' came through.
2. My father was born in 1892 and he went through the cave as a young man sometime in the 1920's. I remember him telling about seeing the 'Old Witch' at Standing Rocks. So, again, I hope some of that rich Tradition came through because to me that is part of what makes Mammoth Cave such a special place. So now that we have completed the tour, we have all become a part that rich tradition."
We know that Frank Henry and Keven enjoyed the tour as much as we did. None of us will ever forget it. It was an honor to go on that tour with Frank Henry and to be a small part of the tradition that was a large part of his life. And, because he and Keven had taught us how to make and throw the torches just the night before, we could vividly imagine what that must have been like, the sound and light show in the cave. We, too, feel that Mammoth Cave is very special. Thanks again, Frank Henry Green and Keven Neff.
Thursday we went to Horse Cave to remove exotic vegetation outside the Hidden River Cave entrance. This was a lot of work, but not too bad, because there were so many of us on the job. One crew cleaned up the steep walls while on rope. Others trimmed ivy and other non-native vegetation along the walk and from around trees. The slope going down into the cave was covered with ivy vines so we pulled that out, rolled it up like a sleeping bag, and carried it up the steep stone steps to a trailer. We cleaned up a flower bed for the mayor, too. Dave Foster has done an amazing job here and we plan on supporting his projects in the future, especially the Pulaski County Pit clean up. Dave rewarded us with a trip deep into Hidden River to Sunset Dome, a fantastic room. The route to get to this room involved a very muddy and slippery ridge climb that was spooky and definitely not for everyone. A few weeks earlier the cave had rapidly flooded, the reason the mud was such a problem.
On Friday there was more lint work on the elevated walkway inside the Historic Entrance as well as electrical junk removal from the Echo River. Another group went back to Cascade Hall to remove more creosoted wood and some iron pipes found sticking up out of the sand. We were basically finished with our work by lunch time so we took it easy that afternoon. Patti and Shawn prepared another incredible meal and Mark Depoy, (Rick Olson's boss), and the park deputy superintendent, Bruce Powell, were both in attendance. Rick had great awards for all camp participants, things that we all treasure! Rick made plaques out of cedar posts that we removed last year, part of the old walkway, and fitted them with RED brass engraved plates that read NSS RESTORATION CAMP AT MAMMOTH CAVE JULY 2006. Each plaque is different and everybody got to pick one. Rick has been making these plaques for several years and everyone loves them. After the awards ceremony Dave Foster gave a presentation on the Pulaski County Pit cleanup. This is a very good project and if you have time, it looks like a great thing to join in on. Then, Jerry Fant, from Austin, Texas, inspired everyone with slides and a talk about caves near the Golondrinas area of Mexico.
Saturday was the day for our educational trips. Larry Johnson took three of us on a three hour tour of Colossal Cave. Very few people go into Colossal anymore although this was once a popular cave. We really enjoyed it. There is a dance hall area in the cave and those visitors of olden times must have been hardy souls to get to that point in their dancing shoes! We looked into the Hazen Cave Entrance as we were passing by, walking back from Colossal.
On Saturday the majority of the group took a long tour of upper Salts Cave going all the way to the Woodson Adair Entrance, taking side trips to the Corkscrew, Mummy Ledge, and Dismal Valley. Steve Petruniak, who has been doing the restoration field camp for over 16 years, said this was one of the best trips he had ever been on.
On Sunday we cleaned up Maple Springs and went home.
Shawn and Patti Horton were our chefs for the week and the food was wonderful. We cannot say enough about the great food, and the time and effort that they put into preparing it for us. Thanks again, both of you. Bonnie Curnock was at camp all week and her 2006 camp t-shirt was an instant hit. We will wear these shirts for years and years. Bonnie is noted for her humor as well! We also want to thank Rick Olson and Roy Vanhoozer for putting up with 40+ unusual individuals for a week. Things happen before, during, and after camp that need to be acted upon, and we know it is a lot of work for them. They have the knack for dealing with all of the people and the various situations and they don't get too stressed out over it.
Mammoth Cave is a special place and we are privileged to be able to help the cave with our work. This is a real opportunity. No matter how many times we go through Main Cave we find out something new on each trip. Of course there are the ox hoof prints under a rock in main cave, but how many have seen the ancient Native American inscribed sun circles? Did you know that turnips and ox blood were used in the saltpetre boiling vats? Have you seen the new observation deck looking down into the Dixon Cave entrance? This gives a great view of the "original" entrance to Mammoth Cave.
The next Mammoth Cave Restoration weekend is Nov. 4-5, 2006. See you there.