BLM teams up with Girl Scouts for cave restoration

Wendy Brown, Public Affairs Specialist

Ellen Trautner, a natural resource specialist and cave expert for the Bureau of Land Management’s Carlsbad Field Office, leads a group to McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25, for a cave restoration project.
Ellen Trautner, a natural resource specialist and cave expert for the Bureau of Land Management’s Carlsbad Field Office, leads a group to McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25, for a cave restoration project.

In the late 1800s, McKittrick Cave, an undeveloped cave about 10 miles west of Carlsbad, became a popular place to visit. Over the years, some visitors broke off formations for souvenirs. Others damaged formations and left pieces on the ground. Still others graffitied the cave. 

So, when Ellen Trautner, a natural resource specialist and cave expert for the Bureau of Land Management’s Carlsbad Field Office, thought about a good place for Everis J., a 13-year-old Girl Scout Cadette from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, to conduct a cave restoration project to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, McKittrick Cave was her answer. 

“I thought McKittrick would be a good one to do because I knew there were some broken formations that we could repair and it’s not too challenging of a cave to bring younger people in,” Trautner said. “At the BLM, we love introducing people to the fact that you can also have recreation activities underground on your public lands, not just on the surface.” 

Everis J., center, a Girl Scout Cadette from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, N.M., gives a safety briefing to other Cadettes before they enter McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25.
Everis J., center, a Girl Scout Cadette from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, N.M., gives a safety briefing to other Cadettes before they enter McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25.

Trautner and Everis visited the cave Nov. 11 to look for matching stalactite pieces to reattach and visited another cave in the area Nov. 12 to remove graffiti. Then, on Nov. 25, Trautner took Everis and five other Cadettes into the cave for more restoration work. Michael Mansur, a cave restoration expert from Estancia, N.M., and three members of the “Aggie Grotto,” a caving club at Texas A&M at College Station, Texas, also participated. Mansur, who gave a presentation to the troop in Albuquerque earlier this year, connected Everis with Trautner for the project. 

On their previous trip, Trautner and Everis matched several broken stalactite pieces to the places where they’d fallen from the ceiling, and the Cadettes set about using epoxy to reattach them. Mansur invented a device called a “Stalactijack” (made of PVC pipes and springs) to hold pieces of broken stalactites in place while the epoxy dries, and the Cadettes installed them. While Trautner and Mansur provided guidance, Everis directed the work and helped install the devices. 

The Girl Scout Silver Award is one of the highest awards a Girl Scout can earn, and it requires at least 50 hours of work to achieve. Everis, who prefers they/them pronouns, said they chose cave restoration for their project because they believe it is not only important for people to know about caves, but to preserve them as animal habitats. For example, bats, snakes and insects such as crickets make their homes in caves. 

 Everis J., left, and Khloe I., Girl Scout Cadettes from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, N.M., use a heating device to dry epoxy on a stalactite in McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25. Everis spearheaded the cave restoration project to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, one of the highest Girl Scout awards.
Everis J., left, and Khloe I., Girl Scout Cadettes from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, N.M., use a heating device to dry epoxy on a stalactite in McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25. Everis spearheaded the cave restoration project to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, one of the highest Girl Scout awards.

In fact, the Cadettes also got to see a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in the cave, and Trautner made sure no animals were hanging out near the entrance of the cave when she first opened the gate. 

Everis said the project was their first time being a leader, but they felt it went well. In addition to briefing the Girl Scouts about safety inside the cave, they directed work on several stalactite repairs. They plan to complete the project by the end of December. 

Trautner said Everis’s project is important because cave restoration teaches about the impact of our actions. “When you’re doing a restoration, you’re up close and personal with impacts people have made in the past and I think it makes you a better and more careful caver,” she said.  

Caves, especially in the Carlsbad area, used to contain more water, which dripped and caused formations to grow, Trautner said. Today, without as much water, it takes caves a lot longer to heal if a formation breaks – much longer than our lifetimes.  

Everis J., left, and Kaylee G., Girl Scout Cadettes from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, N.M., use a Stalactijack to repair a stalactite in McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25. Everis spearheaded the cave restoration project to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, one of the highest Girl Scout awards.
Everis J., left, and Kaylee G., Girl Scout Cadettes from Troop 10655 in Albuquerque, N.M., use a Stalactijack to repair a stalactite in McKittrick Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., Nov. 25.

“If you break something, it’s broken until someone comes along and gets an idea saying, ‘Hey, wait a second, I can actually fix that for the cave,’” Trautner said.  

In addition to the restoration, the project also exposed the Cadettes to caving. In the cave, the Cadettes had to low crawl through a passage about 30 inches high and use rope-like webbing to descend about 12 feet down a wall, and none of them batted an eye. Several said they looked forward to caving again. 

“I love exposing young people to caving as a hobby because it’s just not one many people know about,” Trautner said. 

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