On October 17th, 2020 at 9am, Missouri Stream Team and Cavers met at a local truck stop in Ste Genevieve County. This 2nd cleanup was well overdue, but the COVID-19 outbreak forced us to have to postpone. Finally we felt that society had acclimated to the “new normal” and decided to organize this 2nd cleanup with fairly short notice. About 10 volunteers arrived at the truck stop, all wearing a unique style and color of face mask. We mulled about for a short while to see if any others would arrive and then headed for the cave at 9:15am. The landowner was waiting for us and had the gate open. He waved us through and closed the gate behind us.
Due to the long dry spell that the area was experiencing, we felt that most folks could drive up close to the cave and not get stuck. Low clearance vehicles parked along the line of cedar trees before the slope of the field steepened. Those folks hopped in my trailer to catch a ride down to the walk-in entrance to Grandpa’s Hole Cave where a large pile of trash waited for us on the surface.
The wet weather of the last cleanup did not allow us to get a trailer or otherwise down to the cave entrance without risk of getting stuck. We opted then to bring the trash out of the cave and stage it for future pick up on the surface. Unfortunately, that trash never was picked up and sat there for about 1 year and 5 months. Our first objective was to get this pile loaded into a trailer and haul it away.
The mesh stream team bags that most of the trash was in had been broken down by the elements in the time it sat. We had to re-bag a lot of the pile before we could throw it in the trailer, fortunately the stream team staff provided us with all the gloves and bags we would need. Everyone found a spot around the pile of trash and started picking. Some viny plants had grown through the trash pile as well and needed to be pulled out to facilitate removal, pulling these vines did well to tear open and spread the trash even more. Fortunately, as we dug into the pile, we found there to be quite a few bags still intact. This greatly sped up this part of the cleanup. Before we new it, the 10’ x 5’ trailer was busting at the seems with a trash pile about 4 feet deep.
With the trash picked up off the ground, volunteers gathered their caving gear to start pulling trash out of the cave entrance. Before anyone started down the steep slope into the cave, we had to rake away the dozens of walnuts that littered the slope from the large walnut tree above. These would have made the slope rather precarious otherwise. The foot holes dug in the slope largely were still intact from the last cleanup, we cleaned them up a bit as walnuts seemed to collect in them as well. The last safety item we had to address was that we put a short extension ladder at the drip line to serve as sort of a ramp to get in and out of the cave. What used to be a uniform slope of trash down into the cave was now about a 5 foot drop. With all this taken care of, volunteers were let loose on the in-cave trash.
Half of the group was in the cave bagging trash or filling buckets while the other half served as a bucket brigade to take trash to the top of the sinkhole. Any glass or steel material was put into buckets and dumped into an old house foundation that sits adjacent to the sinkhole. A new pile of trash was started where the old pile sat. The trailer was full so a 2nd trip would be needed to get any new trash pulled out of the cave.
The group worked hard up until we decided to take a break around noon. Some of the group took this opportunity to explore the rest of the cave while others went to the surface to rest. Half of the group had other commitments and had to leave before 1pm, leaving 5 of us to wrap things up. Despite losing half of the group, we managed to remove more trash for a couple more hours before calling it a day around 3pm. We gathered up all the tools, buckets, and mesh bags and stashed what ever we wanted to keep at the site for the next cleanup. One volunteer had accidentally left his new mini shovel behind which is in a safe place until he comes to reclaim it. Most of the mesh bags were sent back with stream team staff as the ones we left from the first cleanup had become nesting material for a Turkey Buzzard and the subsequent chicks. Several other surplus materials were handed over to MCKC / Stream Team 5731 for the next clean up.
During the following week, the trash was hauled off to the Republic trash service transfer station in Ste. Genevieve. Due to some misinformation, the trash was brought to the station about an hour after they had closed, but the gate was still open. One of the employees met us and informed us that they were closed. After chatting with them about who we were with and what we were doing, they were kind enough to still let us discard the trash at the station. It was very much appreciated.
Grandpa’s Hole Cave is cleaner now than it has ever been since it was first documented in 2009, but there is still lots of work left to do if we are to return it to even a shred of its former glory. The donations from members and countless hours invested by volunteers are what make this possible.