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Cave Restoration

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

option, especially when bedrock is defaced, is to conceal it with color-matched mud.

Before Jolly Cave in southwestern Missouri was sealed by its owner in 1971, many visitors marked its walls and formations with soot and paint, built bonfires inside and drove away the bats. After acquiring the cave as part of Capps Creek Conservation Area, the Conservation Department reopened the cave in 1998.

The Ozark Highlands Grotto of Springfield volunteered to work at restoring Jolly Cave. They first removed a large amount of trash and have been washing away what they can of the soot and graffiti. However, they can’t remove it all because some of the sooty formations have been coated with a thin patina of sparkly, white calcite.

Hopefully these speleothems will regenerate, but that process could take hundreds of years. The cave is now gated to prevent further vandalism, but volunteer groups are allowed access to continue the restoration work.

The Ozark Highlands Grotto learned many of their restoration techniques in the 1980s when they began work on Breakdown Cave, a privately owned, severely abused cave.

The cave has become a laboratory for new methods and a classroom for training youth groups. It has become a proving ground for methods of removing muddy hand prints and graffiti. The cave also was the site where a new technique for repairing broken speleothems was developed.

One method of repairing stalactites involves drilling matching holes that are angled to each side of the break and filling the holes with epoxy. A stainless steel bolt with its head removed is threaded into one hole, and the other end of the bolt is inserted into the matching hole on the other side of the break. Often the angled bolt can be threaded so snugly into the speleothem that it is unnecessary to prop up the stalactite with a brace until the epoxy cures.

Other cave conservation tools include photo monitoring and mapping. Many cavers document caves by mapping them in detail with compass and tape surveys. Cave photography, a challenging art requiring the use of multiple flash units, can record the conditions in a cave for posterity.

Building gates on caves is a tool of last resort. We gate caves to protect endangered or fragile species or beauty that otherwise would be lost to rampant vandalism.

Recently the Conservation Department gated Little Scott Cave, which is located at Pea Ridge Conservation Area in Washington County. Cavers from three St. Louis

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