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Annual Lint Removal Project Underway

Jewel Cave National Monument

National Park News

Jewel Cave’s annual scenic tour route lint removal project is nearly complete. 

Every year, each of over 80,000 visitors leaves behind a small amount of clothing fibers, hair, and dead skin cells, which over time accumulate in thick mats on cave surfaces and formations. 

An average of 13 pounds of debris collects under just one 20 by 30 foot platform over the course of a year. Since the scenic tour route opened to the public 35 years ago, the total accumulation under a single platform would come to over 450 pounds by now without this annual effort. When you consider that the tour route is about a half-mile long, that works out to a lot of lint.

All of this organic debris becomes a food source for mold, fungi and bacteria, causing the cave to “smell like grandpa’s cellar.” Jewel Cave is so isolated from the outside world – there’s only one entrance for the 139 miles of passages and there are no underground streams – that it has virtually no organic material at all and no unpleasant smells under natural conditions.

Along with the cellar smell, all of this organic input changes the cave’s ecosystem. The mold, fungi and bacteria produce acids that can etch the cave surfaces and formations, degrading the natural resources. Small creatures called springtails have also been introduced and live off the lint. And the lint collects as “fuzz” on the stalactites or as a gray mat on the sediments.

Much of this debris is caught in nylon “lint tarps,” which are suspended beneath each stairway and platform along the tour route.  Each year, park staff and volunteers take the tarps down and wash them, an activity that’s now taken place for about 15 years.

This year’s cleaning was done with the assistance of volunteers from the Paha Sapa Grotto, a local caving club. 



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