Saturday, November 7, 2009

Encore: The Brandywine Valley Association

Since Geocities is closing down, I have to move all my trip reports. They are in a sort of blog form, so I'll be moving them over here, one at a time.
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( http://www.brandywinewatershed.org/ ) is an organization dedicated to the environmental protection of the watershed in Brandywine Valley. They run a Summer Camp program that reflects that philosophy. One of the components of their summer camp program examines and teaches the relationship of the watershed with the karst region.

Last year they went to Crystal Cave (http://www.crystalcavepa.com/ ) in Kutztown to learn about caves. The Education Director had contacted me, through the grotto, looking for information on caves that she could use with the program. I volunteered to go out a talk with the kids after their trip through Crystal Cave.

For kids younger than I am use to working with, they knew their stuff. They must have paid attention and asked questions of the guides because they knew most of the material I covered with them. I think that mostly it’s because these kids are there because they want to and they are interested in environmental issues.

The Director, Giselle, and I talked about the possibility of getting these kids into an actual wild cave. So we made a plan for the next year.

Wind Cave was the place we decided on for a number of reasons but mostly because it’s an easy cave. Also that it’s close to Indian Echo Cavern (http://www.indianechocaverns.com/home1680.html ) that they were visiting. Another is that it’s a tectonic cave and different from the solution “commercial” cave they would visit the day before. And because it gets abused, they can see first hand what happens when caves are not taken care of.

A couple weeks ago Amos and I took two of the adults from BVA to Wind Cave to evaluate the cave, room by room, passage by passage, what the kids will see and what they can and can’t safely do. Because this trip was on a weekday, and I didn’t anticipate other Philly Grotto cavers to be able to go along, I wanted their staff to be able to understand what we will be getting into.

I usually don’t take this age group caving. But I found these particular kids to be the exception to what most 10 to 12 year-olds are. As a group they understood very well the environment of caves, how they are formed, what is inside, and their importance in environmental relationships. They did a “ropes course” a few days before and some classroom caving exercises with tables and chairs. There were no wimps, whiners, or criers in this group.

I met them where they were staying at 8:45 in the morning. OK, so I was suppose to be there at 8:30. We did get to the cave, got all suited up, and entered a little after 10 AM. With twelve kids and three leaders in tow, you tend to run a little slower than normal, and we counted on this and gave the kids plenty of time to explore and poke around. We did the main entrance straight back, the upper dome room, and the main room. We went down the hole in the main room to the lower level and to the one below that. Some of the kids were very nervous about the climbs. With good spotting they were all able to do everything we threw at them. There were definitely some character building moments that day for all of them at one time or another.

Towards the bottom of the cave a few said they were starting to get cold. I did brief them before we entered to let me know when they started to get cold because it takes time to get out. So we started our way out and up through the climb to the main room where we gathered together again. I told them that those who were cold or had to go to the bathroom could go out the main entrance and would be out in about five minutes. Those who wanted to try a more difficult exit could and it would take an additional ten to fifteen minutes. All of a sudden nobody was really that cold or had to go to the bathroom that bad. They wanted the challenge.

The last passage was a chimneying of about twelve to fifteen feet long and they would be about four to five feet off the floor. I asked them if they watched to old Batman TV shows. Well, that’s what we’re going to do. I showed them how to do it once. Then I went back and slide down to the floor so I was underneath each one as they got indo position, with their feet on the ledge of one wall and their backs on the other as they skidded along. They all did very well, but I think it gave them more security with me under them.

Then we climbed up and out one of the other entrances and into light. By the time I got out, as the last one out, most of them were eating and drinking and undoing their muddy clothes.

I can’t say enough how prepared this group was mentally, physically, and equipment wise. Giselle and Tara from BVA really did their homework and had the kids ready. I feel this is one of the main reasons there were no issues or incidences, much less, no accidents. The attitude of the kids made this for me a really fun trip that I hope can be done again next year.

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