Lost River Cave Restoration Project
Since the cave was first discovered by a road cut, in the spring of 1938, it has been exploited by people in so many ways. First used as a drain for the road and later commercialized for profit. In spite of a survey by theWisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences recommending that the cave was of "no commercial value" and with the larger and more successful commercial operation of Cave of the Mounds just over the hill as a deterrent, the cave was commercialized regardless. In the following years, the cave was badly damaged in an attempt to make it more exciting for its' visitors. An artificial waterfall was installed; a side passage was sprayed with fluorescent paints and black lights to give it the groovy, psychedelic 60's look. And to add insult to injury, the back end of the upper passage was blown open, and a tunnel dug to lengthen the cave that led to an 1800's army fort. Eventually the commercial venture failed and closed.
Over the years, the cave had been forgotten by most until new landowners purchased the property. By 1999 the ticket and souvenir office had become a garage and the stairs that led down to the cave were rotted with the foundation collapsing. The tunnel was mostly collapsed, leaving the upper section of the cave wide opened and what formations there were, to dry out. People had been sneaking over the hill from Blue Mounds Park, partying and lighting fires in the cave. Raccoons had made themselves at home in the upper level but very few bats were noticed. In the lower level, the stairs had collapsed. The lower section had also become a catch basin for dead critters that had fallen through the air vent that went to the surface. A few years had passed with some talk now and then among grotto members on what to do with restoring the cave. In 2001 a visit was paid to the landowner, Richard, who wanted to show us what progress he had made to the entrance and to see if the WSS could help with repairs. The ticket office had been torn down and new garage built. But this left the original entrance now wide open too. The door at the bottom of where the stairs once were was falling off and couldn't close anymore from all the mud washing in.
November 16, 2003
Cavers from the WSS, Iowa Grotto and UW- Madison Hoofers, an outing club, met at the cave in the morning. The objectives were to close the man-made rear tunnel and clean up and remove the remnants of the ex-commercial venture inside the cave. Matt Weineke and co-workers Rhys and Barney (who are non-cavers) donated their time and the use of their heavy equipment. They built a limestone block wall at the tunnels' beginning and laid down landscaping material to seal it. They then used their backhoe and tractors to back fill the large hole and tunnel. In the meantime the rest of the cavers started on the upper level inside the cave. Old wiring, fixtures and signs were removed and placed in the garage along with anything that might be deemed of historic value. The blacklight paints were scraped off the walls and as much of the raccoon fun (shredded cushions, etc) were picked up. John Lovaas, Johan Ragner, James Reeves, Jennifer Scherer, Dan Pertzborn and the rest of the Hoofers formed a human chain to pass up and out the old wooden stairs and PVC pipes. Buckets were filled with broken glass and small pieces of wood and hauled out. Chris Beck brought his generator, sawzall, and cutoff tool along. Chris Beck, Kasey Fiske and Dawn Ryan cut the metal stair frame in three pieces so it could possibly be used for the entrance. Even with cutting it into smaller pieces, it was still a job hauling it up the slope and out the entrance. A deadbolt was purchased for the door which Chris installed, as well as reinforcing the door with a metal plate. A bat-friendly slot was cut in the upper part of the door, to allow the bats free access. The next day Matt and crew returned to place a large boulder over the small airshaft and seal that. This will be a big help in restoring the original temperature and humidity conditions.
August, November and December 20005
This still left the entrance fairly open. With the cave so close to the road, all a person had to do was walk over the hill and fall into the artificial entrance, leaving the landowner at a risk for liability. Several options were discussed with the landowners regarding the entrance. The only request of theirs was to keep the entrance accessible to most people. Two 8 x 20 foot culvert pipes and coupler were purchased by the WSS for $400 from the Oconto County Road Department. Another $400 was given to the project by an anonymous donor. The plan was to install the pipes into the entrance at an angle that would allow most anyone to be able to walk into the cave. Chris Beck, Gary Emerson, Jennifer Schehr, Bryan Garness, John Lovaas, Aaron Ryan and Dawn Ryan, worked on the entrance and the pipes throughout the summer and into the winter in order to get it ready to install into the entrance. Debris that a wooden wall had been holding back for the past 3 years was removed. This wall was built at the time to keep the debris from filling the entrance and had worked well, but it was time to get it out of the way. The pipes were scraped for rust and treated to prevent corrosion.
In December, Chris Beck , Gary Emerson, John Lovaas and Dawn Ryan, returned to cut the pipe and do some more work to the entrance to make sure the pipes were going to fit in right. Chris did this by making a template of the pipe. More debris was removed and the entrance widened.
April 1, 2006, by 7:00 a.m Saturday morning Rick Jenks and his backhoe had been hard at work removing the front foundation and readying the area to receive the pipe. Bedrock had to pummeled and dug out to make the entrance the correct size for the pipe. With Chris' direction the pipe was lifted into its resting place at the entrance but the pipe shifted not fitting correctly and the angle was still too steep, so out it came. A few more shovel fulls and picking and back in it went, this time fitting like a glove.
Richard, brought his trailer around with the second pipe, which Gary and Rick quickly pushed off. Straps were fitted around the pipe and lifted, only for one to break and the pipe had to be brought down. Refitted for lifting, Rick guided the pipe up against the first. While still inches off the ground, we worked to wedge on the coupler. With thumbs up, the pipe was let down.
The pipe couldn't have been placed more perfectly. There was barely a sliver of light to be seen. John went to the local hardware store to pick up large bolts, nuts and washers to clamp the pipe shut. Gary, Chris and Dawn worked on sealing the small openings until John returned. With the pipe securely fastened together landscaping material was placed in all the cracks and over the coupler. Rick, a neighbor from next door brought his bobcat over and made quick work of burying the pipe with several layers of crushed brick and gravel.
Richard plans to build a natural rock wall from the garage to the pipe entrance. He already has a steel door to install. A bat friendly door will be installed in the threshold . Rick mentioned before he left that, "This had to be done. Either that or plug it up." He stated that ever since the building had been tore down leaving the entrance of the cave wide open, his well water would get mucked up from time to time. Since the repairs on the cave some bats have returned to use the cave. A bat count was completed two years ago. This past winter another impromptu count was made noting 12 Big Browns and several pips.
There were many people from the Iowa Grotto, WSS, UW-Madison Hoofers, Matt Weineke's Landscaping employees, Jenks Excavating Company and the neighbors, who helped with the project over the last three years. Thank you so much! I also greatly appreciate the offers of help that ended up not being used. But most of all, sincere appreciation goes to Richard Wilson, who cares enough to want to preserve the resource.