GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - In April, five students from Bigfork High School Cave Club (Bigfork, Mont.) and their sponsor spent a week with Grand Canyon National Park Hydrologist and Cave Resources Manager, Steve Rice, conducting cave resource inventories, impact analysis, and repeat photography of several backcountry cave sites.
"The project was a great fit with the America's Great Outdoor Initiative (AGO), launched by President Obama in April 2010," said Todd Nelson, volunteer coordinator at Grand Canyon National Park. "The President made a promise to future generations and called upon the Department of the Interior and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality to lead the effort of developing an agenda for 21st-century conservation and for reconnecting Americans to our nation's lands and waters."
That agenda encompasses four key goals - make the outdoors relevant to today's young people: make it inviting, exciting, and fun; ensure that all young people have access to outdoor places that are safe, clean, and close to home; empower and enable youth to work and volunteer in the outdoors; and build upon a base of environmental and outdoor education, both formal and informal.
"Through this project, the group has gained experience in the outdoors through service learning, which will cultivate outdoor skills and build stewardship ethic into the future," Nelson said.
The group and their sponsor, Hans Bodenhamer, to date have spent more than 400 hours in the park volunteering on this project. Bodenhamer spent years caving in Grand Canyon National Park in the 1980s and is an early supporter of cave conservation and monitoring in the area. The results of this study will be used to monitor resource conditions over time and help develop management strategies in the future.
The Bigfork High School Cave Club was formed by Bodenhamer in 2005 to provide students with opportunities to participate in outdoor activities while also working with land management agencies to restore and conserve fragile cave resources. The club completed several projects in Montana over the past few years, and in 2010 received the President's Environmental Youth Award for their conservation work on caves in Glacier National Park. They were invited to present their project at the 2010 International GIS Users Conference in San Diego to an audience of 10,000.
During the Glacier project, Bodenhamer became interested in completing a similar project with his students in Grand Canyon National Park. The club collected funds from a variety of sources starting in 2009, and in April 2011, the group traveled to Grand Canyon to spend a week applying their conservation skills. Over the course of the week, the group visited 10 caves below the South Rim taking close to 500 photographs, 100 of which were repeats of historical photos from the 1960s-1980s showing changes over time. Additionally, maps were created locating and identifying cave features, biological resources, temperature, humidity and other data. Since completion of the field work component, the students have been compiling and digitizing the data to create maps and layers in a GIS format to better visualize cave locations and the extent of damage, caused by visitation, to those caves over time.
The project was mutually beneficial to both the National Park Service and the students. Not only did the students spend a memorable week hiking and exploring rarely visited sections of Grand Canyon, they spent time collecting important information on the present condition of several backcountry cave sites.
"The data will most certainly be used in future decisions on cave management," said Rice. "The project has opened the door to similar projects in the future, providing youth a memorable backcountry experience while collecting natural resource information imperative to conserving cave resources for future enjoyment and research."
Nelson said the work the students antheir sponsor completed in the park is much appreciated.
"It is important to connect our youth with the outdoors - through their service work, park staff has gained a greater knowledge of our cave resources and the students have gained a greater knowledge of the environment through outdoor education," he said.
Rice will present results of this research project at the National Speleological Society annual meeting in Colorado in July. For more information on this project, please call Rice at (928) 638-7481.