Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cave Management Training at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

At the end of April I had the opportunity to travel to Mammoth Cave National Park to help teach an interagency Cave Management class. I chose to stay in one of the historic cabins in the park.

It was a nice space.

But this warning about the Kentucky Woods Mice eating anything left out gave me pause. I didn't really want to share my room.

I was one of the first presentations up, talking about cave management plans. Hopefully I managed to make the subject entertaining!

The class was held in a classroom in the morning, field trip in the afternoon, and optional activity in the evening style. Our first afternoon we went and toured the historic section of the cave.

The Mammoth Cave historic entrance is impressive. There are many more cave entrances to the longest cave in the world, at over 400 miles long.

We checked out their decon stations. Visitors cross these on the way out of the cave to help avoid spreading white-nose syndrome (WNS). WNS has been found in the park.

I was also very interested in their trail restoration, which included new hardened trails and lint curbs to keep the lint from people's clothes from spreading throughout the cave.

We saw the tuberculosis huts, which were created to help cure that disease. The experiment didn't go so well.

We also visited the bathrooms. Yep, bathrooms in a cave. It was a strange juxtoposition.

That evening we went over to nearby Diamond Caverns, a privately-owned show cave. Owner Gordon Smith gave us a warm welcome.

We split into two groups for cave tours, and I joined owner Stan Sides' trip. Diamond Caverns is really well decorated, with nice infrastructure including LED lights and lint curbs.

They just built the National Cave Museum and Library on the property. I was at the groundbreaking 2.5 years ago during the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium. It was exciting to see so much progress! The museum isn't open to the public yet, but they let us in.

Here's one of the many rooms. I started wandering around and found a couple boxes dedicated to Nevada. I asked if I could look through one and was granted permission.

Inside I found a booklet entitled "Unrivaled beauty of Lehman Caves." I was so excited, I had never seen this before! I asked for permission to look at it and take photos, and Gordon was so kind to permit that.

Here's the first page:
A horseman rode across the hill
And cursed his luck which was so ill
Thought he "indeed I seem to be
The larget of adversity."
Just then a miracle was wrought
As though in answer to his thought
His horses hoof had broken through
The hillside's shallow crest.
The loyal broken-legged steed
Fell helpless on his breast.
The man knelt by his horses side
The rock and turf away he pried
And through the opening in the ground
Here's what our gllant hero found.
Of volume great, a spacious room
Enveloped in a twilight gloom.
As on and on he winds his way,
For naught his footsteps hold can stay
Our hero stands in black amaze
At what now meets his anxious gaze
Let's follow him, our trusty guide
And see what Nature doth confide.

The booklet goes on in verse for a tour of the cave.

There were other pamphlets about Lehman Caves that I had never seen before. This museum and library is certainly a treasure trove!

One day we focused on cave inventory and mapping. After the classroom sessions, we went over to Dixon Cave, a gated cave near the historic entrance, and practiced inventory. It was nice to go down near the gate and feel the cool air. This was once part of Mammoth Cave, but the collapse at the historic entrance cut it off. Now it's home to many bats.

There were so many flowers blooming. This dwarf iris was near Dixon Cave.

Then we went into a section of Mammoth Cave and practiced using a compass, clinometer, tape, and later a DistoX to do cave survey. In the evening, several cave mapping gurus showed off cave maps and explained the process and software they used to make them. Two of the presenters had drafted over 500 caves each!

One day we talked about cave restoration and then took a field trip to Crystal Cave, once a tourist cave and now part of Mammoth Cave. The parking area is near an old cabin and the ticket window.

We descended a long staircase that went past a rock engraved with Floyd Collins' name. Crystal Cave is a bit off the main track, so he was trying to find a cave closer that he could develop and get rich with. While he was in Sand Cave, a rock shifted and trapped his foot. The ensuing media circus lasted for weeks, but unfortunately he didn't survive. The book Trapped by Roger Brucker covers this memorable occasion.

We were greeted inside Crystal Cave by a lot of cave crickets.

I wasn't kidding about a lot!

We saw lots of broken formations and gypsum crust along the way. The cave had been vandalized by a local rock shop to sell speleothems. Rangers discovered the speleothems and shut down the operation. The speleothems have been brought back into the cave, some still with prices on them. Lots of great restoration has occurred, but there's still lots more to do.

That night we went to a different entrance of Mammoth Cave and learned how to do cricket inventories. It was quite interesting, plus we saw Frozen Niagara, a very beautiful part of the cave.

Their pillar of moral support (Lehman Caves also has one).

Our last class day included cave safety and practicing vertical caving skills.

We finished with a round of cave management Jeopardy, which was quite entertaining.

After a fun Mexican dinner, we went to Hidden Canyon Cave in Horse Cave, Kentucky. The cave goes right under downtown, and it was incredible thinking about how polluted the cave had gotten and then how much it had been cleaned up. These caves are so connected with the surface.

A few other sights from the trip:
I loved this shower timer.

The old railroad that went to Mammoth Cave.

I went on morning runs and saw the Echo River resurgence.

And the River Styx.

And the Green River, which I canoed with my family a few years ago.
It was a beautiful trip. Watch out for ticks, though, they are thick and carry so many diseases. And the class was just really great to attend.


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