May 2019 Cleanup

On May 11th, 2019 at 9 am, Missouri Stream Team volunteers and cavers from several Missouri grottos gathered at a local truck stop in Ste. Genevieve County. Leading up to the day of the clean-up we had gone back and forth several times on postponing the date due to rain, but we ended up deciding to tough it out. The weather man was not wrong as it was already drizzling and everything was thoroughly wet. A large turn out was not expected, but surprisingly more than 20 people showed up. The clean-up was organized by the Missouri Caves and Karst Conservancy as the cave was recently leased to the MCKC by the landowner.

At about 9:15 am everyone hopped in there vehicles and we caravanned over to the cave. The cave, Grandpa’s Hole, lies out in a field and has two entrances. One entrance is a vertical pit about 60 feet deep. This entrance has fallen victim to historic tire dumping. The other entrance is large sinkhole next to an old homestead. It has fallen victim to historic residential trash dumping, but is a walk-in entrance. Due to the wet fields, most of the volunteers parked along the landowner’s driveway near the cave and got a ride down to the entrance on more capable vehicles.

The walk-in entrance is a steep mud slope down to a large trash pile at the dripline. The trash pile continues steeply into the cave. Here there is a false wall that is either climbed over and down about 20 feet on the other side or gone under via a hole dug through the trash. On the other side of the false wall is the beginning of short hands and knees crawl that is littered with broken glass that has been washed in from the entrance. Beyond this crawl lies the bottom of the pit entrance, a mound of discarded tires, and large walking cave passage. Unfortunately the cave ends in a large chamber shortly. The only possible continuation is a tire clogged canyon leading out of the chamber. It is believed during flood events, the surge of water rushes down this canyon and takes the tires with it. A small, active stream always flows threw the cave otherwise.

The walk-in entrance area was the focus of this cleanup. We had intended to setup a haul system to pull tires out of the vertical entrance, but did not due to the wet conditions. Everyone got right to work as they arrived at the entrance. Some people started gathering trash that was scattered about the rim of the sinkhole while others headed into the cave and started attacking the massive trash pile. The weapons of choice were garden tools, buckets, and mesh bags. Buckets were used to collect the vast amounts of glass. This was piled into the old foundation of the homestead that sat next to the sinkhole. The landowner plans to fill this in with dirt at some point. Actual trash was gathered in the mesh bags and piled on the surface for disposal. Any large bits of metal were piled separately for recycling.

As the day progressed, everyone naturally found a role. Some formed a bucket brigade to hand trash up the entrance slope and bring supplies into the cave, others focused on collecting glass, and the remaining found a spot in the pile and dug in. Over the next few hours we worked diligently to collect and remove trash. The weather outside had improved for some time, but ultimately it began to rain steadily. This turned the dripline into a shower for those walking in and out of the cave. Outside the ground was becoming trampled and sloppy with mud. Foot holds were dug in the slope to make it easier to carry trash up. About mid-day we stopped for lunch. Some took this as an opportunity to explore the rest of the cave while most were ready to eat. One caver was generous enough to bring his grill and BBQ several dozen hotdogs and provide a pop-up so everyone could get out of the rain. As lunch came to an end, the person in charge of the Missouri Stream Team side of the volunteers asked that we head over to the vertical entrance and begin pulling tires out from around the rim of the pit.

We had not expected to be able to do any work on tires initially. As it turned out, this individual specialized in tire collection and disposal. He has an “operation” of sorts at home where he takes the tires to be cut up and cleaned before taking to proper disposal company. He had brought with him to the cleanup a large, walled trailer to haul tires with. The group made their way to the pit entrance and got to work yanking tires out of the small, wooded sinkhole. The rain was still coming down steady and everyone was getting soaked, but all were in high spirits. The rain was actually not so bad as it kept use cool and kept the bugs down.

Volunteers worked feverishly pulling tires out and stacking them around the sinkhole as others loaded them on the landowner’s truck. As one would expect, most of the tires were full of stagnant  water, soil, and other mysterious things. Every so often someone would cry out in disgust as they caught the backsplash of a tossed tire. In no time there was quite the wall of tires built up around the sink and still many more untouched. The haul trailer was at capacity unfortunately so no more tires were being taken. The group returned to the other entrance and resumed work.

We worked for another few hours before calling it a day. We had made quite a dent at the cave entrance, but there is still a lot of work to be done. It will take several more cleanups before a noticeable impact is seen throughout the cave. Since the cave is now leased by MCKC, visitation will be allowed through a permit process. The cave, although short, provides a great place to lead trips for prospective cavers. They will get a taste for a variety of cave characteristics (mud, crawls, climbs, borehole, etc..). The site will serve well for survey workshops and vertical workshops as well for several area grottos.

October 2020 Cleanup

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.

March 2021 Cleanup

I was excited to get an early start on a beautiful sunny day.  I picked up buckets and work gloves at Alex Litsch’s before arriving at Grandpa’s hole around 8 am.  I cautiously drove my car down to the shed with no problem. I wanted to make sure I had the ladder, hand line and any extra footing modifications done before meeting the main group at the Ozora Exxon at 10 am.  I unpacked my car and all the extra gear I brought for the volunteers. I tied off a hand-line and went down into the cave. It was still pretty wet and slippery so I went back up and grabbed a shovel and started making a few modifications to the footing.  I used a few rocks and bricks from the cave to stabilize a couple of the steps. Then I went back and got the ladder, set it up, and secured it with a piece of webbing wrapped around the wall.  Not sure if it was ideal but the ladder didn’t move and no one got hurt so there is that.  I also cleaned some debris and trash that was unstable from the approach to the ledge for the ladder.  I knew we would be dealing with at least 6 college students and didn’t want any hiccups. 

After the ladder was secured I went through the crawl and immediately realized that it would be too wet and muddy to accomplish any meaningful work in the crawl.  Several spots my hand would sink inches into the mud and I knew the girls would not be prepared for prolonged kneeling in wet conditions. As I exited the crawl I noticed several spots where trash had gathered, especially up against where the tires are.  I believe that since we have started to open up and remove more trash at the bottom of the walk-in entrance, trash is starting to wash into the cave, I noticed a lot of cans. I glanced around by the tires and didn’t venture any further since I was alone and it was getting close to 9:30 am. As I started to exit the cave I heard Bob on the surface and we talked for a few minutes before I headed to meet the group at Ozora Exxon. 

Rachel Holtmann, administrative vice president of Gamma Phi Beta at SEMO, and her 5 sorority sisters  arrived around 9:45.  Alicia, Mike and Ethan Wallace arrived shortly after that.  The group arrived at the cave at about 10 am and got everyone geared up to get in the cave. Bob had a map of Grandpa’s Hole and Black Fathom for the group to take a look at before we went in. 

Each of our volunteers entered the cave one at a time, as Mike assisted them at the ladder and made sure they took their time getting to the bottom.  As soon as the first couple were on the ground they started filling the buckets with glass and the river bags with trash and cans. 

Besides finding a few animal bones and joking about other items they found in the cave the group was focused on working.  The ground was still fairly cold, wet and there was even a couple of hunks of ice in the crawl about the size of dinner plates. About 12:15 you could tell they were losing interest and a couple mentioned they were starting to feel cold.  So we wrapped up what we were doing and the group got into the crawl and explored the cave. 

We did the typical exploration trip through the cave back to the bear beds and tried to answer and questions about the cave that we could.

There was some evidence that the water had gotten up a bit from the previous week’s rain, but I don’t believe it reached the archway as the mud on the floor was still fairly solid.  There were a couple of tires on the other side of the arch and a couple of pieces of trash, but I don’t recall if that area was cleared of debris in the past.

After taking a couple of group photos on the tire mound we went back through the crawl that was now a mushy mess and sucked a couple of shoes off as we went through.

On the other side of the crawl Mike Helped the students exit using the ladder as Alicia and myself moved the buckets and trash bags through the lower crawl hole to stage on the other side.

After the girls were all at the top Mike, myself and Alicia followed behind carrying a few buckets of glass to the surface.  We had already taken a couple of buckets up earlier while cleaning.

It was probably around 1:15 to 1:30 when we were all on the surface. Bob and his cattle dog were there to greet us and share more history and stories about the property.  I started up the grill, making hot dogs and warming grilled chicken for the group.  At this point we decided not to go back into the cave as the crawl got several people wet and muddy. Also the process to get them back over the ladder took some time.  Most of the group changed into clean clothes as I cooked.

After we all ate, the group cleaned up and moved all the gear to the vehicles.  Mike and myself got the ladder out and the last couple of buckets of glass were taken to the basement and dumped.

Overall I would say this was a good experience.  I believe we filled about 11 of the river bags with trash and 10 buckets of glass were dumped in the basement. We left about 8 bags of trash in the bottom of the cave along with several empty buckets by the stack of river bags stored in the cave.  The buckets on the surface were stored in the shed and one white bucket was sealed with the remaining work gloves.  I will clean the work gloves we used and return them to the site or Alex Litsch.

It might not have been ideal conditions, but I believe my daughter’s sorority would be up for another trip to remove trash. It was also suggested that they might be available to help on the surface during future trips as food preparers or just surface help, even as helpers at other events in the region.

We were all off the property by 3:17 pm.

Derik Holtmann

December 2021 Cleanup

This was one of our largest, most successful cleanups yet. Over 40 volunteers from the Scouts, MO Stream Team, and various grottos showed up at the cave and over the course of the day removed 3.5 tons of trash and nearly 200 tires. The 60′ deep pit entrance into the cave is now completely free of tires, this is a huge milestone given that the pit used to be filled to the top with tires. Brian Waldrop with MO Stream Team led the tire retrieval and disposal effort. He and his team are an asset to this cave restoration and they are eager to help. Ethan Wallace organized and led the scouts who made up the majority of the volunteers.