In March of 2008 Great Basin National Park hosted a lint camp at Lehman Cave. A total of 10 volunteers from Nevada, California, and Utah traveled to the park to participate. This event was organized due to the significant accumulations of lint throughout the cave since the last lint camp in 2000. Lint is introduced to the cave environment by the approximately 40,000 people who enter the cave each year. Lint is composed of fibers, hairs, skin cells, dust, and other foreign particles. Lint can become cemented into cave formations, causing discoloration or even dissolution of natural cave surfaces. Lint also acts as an artificial food source, potentially causing imbalances in cave biota communities. In addition to removing lint from the cave, lint camp participants also worked to clean flowstone and ceiling surfaces that had become stained with dirt and mud, and to remove foreign debris such as concrete, rock, and sand that had been introduced during trails and lighting projects. Nearly 50 hours of in-cave volunteer time yielded just over 8 pounds of material that was collected and removed from the cave.
Lint camp participants focused primarily on areas along the tour routes, as these spots have accumulated the greatest amount of lint and other foreign material. Work was performed in the Grand Palace, Inscription Room, Music Room, Tom Tom Room, Rose Trellis Room, Gothic Palace, Exit Tunnel, and Natural Entrance area. Before beginning, park staff led safety, training, and cave biota identification sessions. To remove lint, workers used paintbrushes and tweezers to brush and pluck lint off cave surfaces. Lint was transferred to a collection bag, along with any other trash found. Lint and other debris from each section of the cave was weighed and photographed prior to disposal. A few interesting finds included rusty hairpins, pieces of old glass bottles, a deteriorated rubber bouncy ball, and a couple of pennies.
A different kind of restoration activity was conducted near the exit tunnel, where volunteers worked to clean bits of hardened mud and sand off the ceiling. When the floor of this area was blasted in the early 1970s to create a walking passage, the impacts of the explosions were contained by stacking sandbags over the blast area. This resulted in much of the sand and finer sediments being projected onto the ceiling, where some of it has remained to this day. A few hours of work in this area using spray bottles and brushes made a remarkable difference to the appearance of the cave ceiling surface and formations.
The final evening of lint camp was spent using a tall ladder to reach high ceiling areas in the Gothic Palace. This was the site of some of the most concentrated lint accumulations in the entire cave, indicating the presence of air currents that cause lint deposition 20-30 feet off the ground. Some of the soda straws and stalactites in this area were literally shrouded in lint. Unfortunately lint has become cemented onto some of the cave formations in this area, as water has deposited calcite over old lint deposits. This made the removal process extremely difficult and in some cases impossible. Still, the Gothic Palace ceiling looks far better than before we started.
The lint camp was successful in making Lehman Cave a cleaner place. Future lint camps will target areas that we did not have time to clean in one weekend. Great Basin National Park would like to thank all those who volunteered to help with this important project.
-Shawn Thomas 2008