Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp

Aug 5-10, 2007

by Beth Reinke

 I had a great time “unplugged” at the Mammoth Cave Restoration Field Camp.  The heat (outside the cave) was a bit oppressive and a closed ferry for half the week was a major inconvenience, but the fellowship, physical labor, feeling of accomplishment and absence of computer, email, phone and TV was great!  In a moment of weakness (perhaps heat stroke?) I agreed to be this year’s camp historian, so here’s “the story according to Beth”.

Camp Setup:


 A small crew of dedicated volunteers arrived at Maples Springs early for setup chores to get things ready for the week.  Saturday afternoon showers were the only rain seen all week, but were welcome as they likely contributed to keeping the ferry going as long as it did.  Our leaders this year were Rick Olson (NPS rep), Roy VanHoozer and Kevin Betz.  Back by popular demand, Shawn and Patti Horton were our camp cooks – their first major challenge was to set up the kitchen and cook in extreme heat as the air conditioning was out in the kitchen and dinning hall.

Sunday was gathering day at camp.  Final camp setup chores, vertical practice, slack-line practice, kayaking and a hike to the old Collins home were among the activities as volunteers gradually arrived and settled in throughout the day.  The one disappointment for the day was that the AC in the kitchen and dining hall remained broken – nonetheless, Patti and Shawn labored on.  After a fabulous welcome supper (bread bowls, yum), Roy and Rick lead a brief meeting to talk about the week’s agenda, goals and educational opportunities.

The Work Week:


The group gathered at the Historic entrance on Monday morning.  Initially the entire crew headed down to River Styx and Echo River via Audubon Avenue, Little Bat Avenue, the tower, and Sparks Avenue.  Once at the river one eager crew braved the cold, muddy water and waded past the end of the remaining metal bridge toward Cascade Hall to retrieve old wood (mostly long timbers and posts) now visible in shallow water.  Another crew toted the wood that was found from the river back to a staging area in Vanderbilt Hall.  A third crew returned to main cave between Little Bat and Rafinesque Hall to pull old cable, cover new cable and repair trails.  While the work crew labored in the cave, Patti and Shawn labored in the heat to prepare dinner (Mexican night) back at camp – alas, there was still no AC in the kitchen.  After supper some watched cave videos or visited on the patio while others retreated to the comfort of the air conditioned house and bunkhouse.


On Tuesday morning, the entire crew assembled at the Carmichael entrance for a half day of trail maintenance work which consisted of covering cables along Cleaveland Avenue toward the Snowball Dining Room.  Before work started, Rick Olson briefed the group on some of the new lighting options being considered for Mammoth’s commercial cave routes.  Rick talked about several lights comprised of varying numbers of white and amber LEDs.  The challenge is to achieve pleasing light for viewing while discouraging algae growth.  After the morning’s work, lunch was served at Maple Springs and all were happy to notice that the kitchen/dining hall was finally cooling down - workers got the AC working just before noon.  J

On Tuesday afternoon, Rick Olson and Rick Toomey led a group of about 20 on a “recon” trip to Ganter Cave.  The objectives of this trip were to: assess and photo document rotten wood from the commercial cave tour days; measure by balloon assent a reverse fault present in the cave (it was 42 feet high); and photo document the slickensides striations produced by the motion across opposite sides of the fault plane.  It was a hot and strenuous hike to and from the cave, but on their return to Maple Springs, the weary explorers were rewarded with a phenomenal ribs and chicken dinner in an air conditioned dining hall.  Have I mentioned how great the cooks were yet?


The volunteers were treated to a “farmer’s breakfast” of fried chicken on Wednesday, which made me wonder whether the one-vehicle limit on the ferry that morning was due to the low river or the abundant breakfast carried by the vehicle occupants.   After the slow morning commute, the group gathered at the Historic entrance and divided into several work crews.  One crew headed to Echo River (Vargo tool in tow) to dig posts and retrieve wood exposed by the low water level.  A second crew organized the growing pile of wood and debris in the Vanderbilt Hall chop shop and toted wood from Echo River to Vanderbilt.  The final crew pulled old cables, covered new cables and did trail repair in Audubon, Broadway and Rafinesque Hall of main cave.

Wednesday night was pizza night up at the shelter in the picnic area above the Visitor’s Center.  In keeping with our luck for the week, the AC in the shelter was on the fritz – perhaps a message that we should have stayed in the cave longer.  After dinner, Amy McCray, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and Cultural Resource Management Specialist at Mammoth spoke to the group about her archeology and anthropology work and the educational programs she conducts.  With the ferry now inoperable, the caravan of camp vehicles took the long way home to Maple Springs after Amy’s presentation.


The group once again gathered at the Historic entrance Thursday.  Before work started, those who were interested followed Larry Matiz, guide extraordinaire, down to Great Relief Hall via the Historic Tour trail (Broadway, Methodist Church, Fat Man’s Misery) – always a nice treat and change of pace from the more direct “tower” route.  From Great Relief Hall, one crew headed down to Echo River to dig out a few more posts spotted on earlier trips.  A second crew toted wood from Echo River to the staging area in Vanderbilt Hall.  The third crew continued its work pulling old cable, covering new cable and repairing trails in Audubon, Broadway and Rafinesque Hall of main cave.  The cable pulling and hauling crew accumulated a huge pile of cable – aptly named “Mt. Cable” – during the week.  A delicious dinner of chicken dumplings and beef stroganoff awaited the volunteers back at camp Thursday evening.  Of interest to horror/fiction movie buffs, a showing of “The Cavern” was among the evening’s entertainment.


Friday’s point of departure was the Snowball elevator entrance.  The group divided into two crews for a partial work day to wrap up the week.  One crew hiked down to Cascade Hall to carry out wood left by the Echo River crew earlier in the week.  Because of the lower than normal river level, the 1972 connection passage off Cascade Hall was as visible as I’ve ever seen it – a special sight after the long hike.  The other crew returned to Cleaveland Ave to pull old and cover new lighting cables.  After lunch in the Snowball dining room, the entire group worked for an hour or so to tote cable pulled along Cleaveland Ave. back to the staging area behind the elevator.

The shorter work day allowed for a leisurely return to camp, relaxation, packing and fellowship before the traditional closing dinner and camp awards program.  The volunteers and special guests Bob Ward and Deputy Superintendent Bruce Powell were treated to a shrimp and prime rib dinner worthy of gourmet status.  The volunteers received a small pocket knife and a cedar post plaque each uniquely handcrafted by Rick Olson from some of the cedar posts removed from the Echo River area during previous camps.  This year’s special camp award recipients were:

 Saturday:  Educational Trips / Camp Cleanup



 Archeological Finds:

 During our cable / trail work, we actually found several interesting artifacts:

 Special Thanks:

 Kudos to the setup/cleanup crew (some arriving as early as Friday and staying into Sunday) who did a great job getting the grounds, house, kitchen, dining hall and bunkhouse ready for the group.  Rick Olson, Roy VanHoozer and Kevin Betz lead and managed the diverse group of volunteers with patience and grace.  Once again, Shawn and Patti Horton did a fabulous job in the kitchen particularly early in the week without air conditioning. Finally, Bonnie Curnock did another bang-up job on the camp shirts – a cool Carolina blue.

 Camp Participants: (41 volunteers from 11 states)

Kitty Albee, Julie Angel, Mike Angel, Kevin Betz, Eric Buckelew, Larry Bundy, Linda Bundy, Bill Copeland, Zach Copeland, Bonnie Curnock, Ken DeJonge, Preston Forsythe, Shari Forsythe, David Frazier, Tim Grass, Matthew Hazelton, Patti Horton, Shawn Horton, Travis Irwin, Karen Kennedy, John Kirk, Jonathon Lewis, Craig Luehr, Dawn Margrabe, Larry Matiz, Scott McGlamery, Spencer Meffert, Paul Miller, Richard Nelson, Kim Nelson, Rick Olsen, Daniel Pertzborn, Steve Petruniak, Beth Reinke, Todd Richards, Beverly Rist, Dave Ruth, Roy VanHoozer, Mark Walker, Earl Wagner, Sue Whittaker.