Walker Mountain Grotto hosted a cave clean-up at Julia Crockett’s Cave in Wythe County on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. A few years ago (2014?) we were called by the cave owner to come and “check out my cave.” Jason Lachniet and Bill Grose dutifully headed over to the cave and recorded an accurate location before climbing inside. The cave corkscrews steeply downward in a counter-clockwise direction for a total length/depth of perhaps 35 to 40 feet, ending in a massive heap of breakdown, dirt and a literal century’s worth of rubbish. Discussion at that time centered around attempts at opening the floor to search for additional passage, and how a massive clean-up would by necessity preclude anything further. For all intents and purposes, we’d written off the cave as yet another trash-filled sink. Still, the words “Julia Crockett’s ‘Trash Pit'” and “cave clean-up” were never far apart when one or the other came up in conversation, and thus it shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise when talk and action finally came together.
Skipping ahead to the end of the story, Sunday’s clean-up was a smashing success! Participating in the clean-up were twelve cavers from three different grottoes – what a great cooperative effort! Walker Mountain Grotto was represented by Bill Grose, Tanya McLaughlin, Caleb and Zachary Taylor, Eric Cueva, and Nick Smith. The Triangle Troglodites of Raleigh-Durham, NC were represented by Carlin Kartcher and Emily Graham. Providing moral support were Laurel Kartcher and 15 month-old “Darth” Kartcher. The Virginia Tech Cave Club was represented by Amy Skowronski, Andrew Lycas, Brandon Caudill, and Rowan Berman. Providing a pick-up truck for trash removal, a home for post clean-up festivities, and tasty food and fun entertainment was Wendy Grose, hostess extraordinaire.
The cavers took turns in a vertical sort of bucket brigade, filling five gallon buckets of trash and passing and hauling it up to the mouth of the cave where a surface crew sorted and bagged the trash.
The amount of trash we collected was impressive. When all was said and done, 23 large lawn-and-leaf bags were filled with bottles, cans, broken toys, shoes, random bits of fabric…you name it. Nine additional five gallon buckets of broken glass, a few rusted-out wash tubs, a chamber pot, and some large pieces of sheet metal were also brought to the surface. Sadly, this is only a fraction of what still remains. There is easily twice as much still needing to be removed (so if anyone needs a service project, give us a shout!) A hunting camp sat a few yards uphill from the cave for many years, and the original farmhouse on the property was built in the early 1800s, so this cave has been used as a trash pit for the hundred or more years.
A few pleasant surprises waited for us too, though. A small salamander inhabited a crack near the entrance and small cluster of five bats nestled high above the work space. Unfortunately, one woke up and flitted about before finally settling down in another location. (Thus explaining why one four are pictured.)
While we were working, cave owners Jerry S and Judy S. prepared for us some very tasty homemade Brunswick Stew and corn bread. Om nom nom! Thanks, Jerry and Judy! And after hauling everything to the dump, all cavers headed back to the Grose homestead for a cook-out, favorite beverages, and a raucous and laughter-filled game of Cards Against Humanity.
Wrapping up this report, I’d like to again thank all of the cavers who participated in the clean-up as well as all three grottoes for helping get the word out and round up help – a tough call no doubt, all the more so since our clean-up fell during the 2016 TAG.
Back row: (l-r) Caleb and Zach Taylor, Eric Cueva, Carlin Kartcher, Bill Grose, Emily Graham, Amy Skowronski, Andrew Lycas, Brandon Caudill, Nick Smith, Rowan Berman. Not pictured: Tanya McLaughlin. Front row: 23 bags of trash, 9 five gallon buckets of broken glass, two wash tubs, and sundry other large pieces of metal.