By Buford Pruitt
Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne toppled a lot of trees in the Gainesville, Florida area, and many trees that were not totally blown over suffered significant limb loss. Warrens Preserve suffered heavily from the 2004 hurricanes, with medium to large sized trees felled all along the property’s entry road including one particularly large tree that fell directly on top of the property line gate. Several large trees were also down across the off-site road that leads to the property. To add to the mess, a half-dozen or so beetle-killed pines that have been standing dead for several years
around the cave’s entrance sinkhole gave up the ghost during the hurricane winds and augured into the sinkhole immediately in front of the cave gate.
Sean Roberts discovered the situation and called me in early November, and I then organized a cleanup via the Florida Cavers Yahoo Group. Thirteen people and five chainsaws showed up early on the morning of Nov. 20 to clear the road and cave entrance. The participants were Adam Scherer, Jennifer Loughran, Corey Brasalier, Eric Amsbury, Steve Nesmith, Wendy Shirah, Sarah and Sequoia Cervone, Jeff Moore, Annette and Danny Brinton, Tom Feeney and me. Wendy took photographs of the event, which will hopefully be posted soon on the website. It was warm and muggy all day, like summertime, as it had rained the day before and even rained a little on us that morning while we worked, and my clothes were soon soaked. Oh well, welcome to Florida.
In the morning we broke up into several groups, each with 1 or 2 chainsaws and 3 or 4 people. One person with a chainsaw would cut and 1 or 2 others would haul the cut debris out of the road. We lined the edges of the dirt road with debris in order to encourage people to stay on the road when driving back to the cave entrance.
We started on the off-site trees that blocked our entry to the Warrens Preserve dirt road, and then worked our way back to the cave entrance. We were apprehensive that we might have to replace the entry road gate, but the gate worked fine after being uncovered. Oh, it has a few more dents now, but somehow I doubt anyone will notice them. Someone did a bang-up job of constructing that gate in the first place. It took only about 2.5 hours for us to clear the road of debris. I was really impressed with the way that everyone worked together so efficiently.
A large tree at the entrance of the dirt road had been pushed over by the hurricane winds, and in so doing had left a large, deep hole in the road. A group consisting of Wendy, Jen and Corey used dibble sticks and a shovel to gouge dirt from the root mat of the fallen tree and placed the dirt back in the hole. Hopefully, the hole won’t hold too much water and get wallowed out over the coming years. If so, we will need to go back and fill it with clean sand or gravel.
After lunch we tackled the giant “pick-up sticks” that bristled up out of the cave entrance. This was no mean feat. These limbless pine poles were largely debarked, and because of the recent rains were slick and wet, not to mention heavy. After debating at some length about the best way to remove them, we settled on chainsawing them into sections in place, then manually hauling them up and out of the sinkhole with ropes. Danny and Eric did most of the chainsawing, and the rest of us formed a “bucket line” to haul them up and away. Some of the logs tended to snag on the iron ladder when they were being rope-hauled up, so Danny (“Igor”) hoisted them on his shoulder and walked them up the ladder. Clearing the cave entrance took about 3 hours.
After the cleanup Jeff, Annette, Danny and I did a quick tour of the historic section of the cave to assess the changes that were caused by the hurricane water inflows. A lot of dirt was excavated and carried to deeper, unknown portions of the cave. The entrance passage between the cave gate and the top of the First Drop had been lowered by 1 – 2 feet and additional dirt has been excavated below the drop to the Crossroads and from the right-hand passage in the Crossroads. We found a large broken bone, possibly a femur that had been excavated by the storm waters. As it looked and felt old, we retrieved it and later passed it on to Sean, who took it to a palaeontologist where he works at the Florida Museum of Natural History and learned that it was from a llama. Presumably, that llama died there in the Pleistocene.
We noted a relatively deep pool (4-6 ft?) of tannin-stained water in the right-hand passage beyond the Crossroads. Three dead mice floated in the stagnant pool. We saw another, living mouse in the historic section and 1 or 2 more living mice on the distal side of the Cashew Squeeze. All were cotton mice (Peromyscus gossypinus). This is the largest number of mice I have ever seen on a single trip into Warrens cave. We also saw a single bat, asleep.
This makes twice now this year that cavers have assembled to remove logs from the entrance of Warrens Cave. Since there are more standing dead, beetle-killed pines around the sinkhole, I imagine we will have to remove more of them in the not too-distant future. Management is a never-ending occupation, but that’s ok – I enjoy any excuse to go to Warrens or to spend a day with cavers.