Mammoth Cave National Park Spring Service, Kentucky

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14080A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Participate in trail maintenance and ongoing invasive species control projects
  • Assist with various park research projects (e.g. chestnut reintroduction)
  • Explore the caves on a cave tour 


  • All meals
  • Bunkhouse accommodations
  • Special cave tour with park naturalist 


DatesMar 30–Apr 5, 2014
StaffVernon Cook

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Mammoth Cave is the longest recorded cave system in the world, with more than 367 miles explored and mapped -- and it's speculated that an additional 600 miles of caves exist. Congress authorized the 53,000-acre national park in 1926 to preserve the cave system, the scenic river valleys of the Green and Nolin rivers, and a hilly section of south-central Kentucky. Mammoth Cave was designated as a World Heritage site in 1981 and as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990.

The Project

Our work project will probably focus on invasive species control, particularly garlic mustard removal. Garlic mustard removal has been very effective. The Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave is now free of garlic mustard based on Sierra Club service projects.  Native wildflowers have returned to flourish in this area, which initially required two days of effort to clear the garlic mustard. Early spring is the perfect time to remove it.

Previous Sierra Club groups have assisted with trail maintenance (i.e. maintaining or rebuilding established park trails) and we may be requested to do the same. The northern portion of Mammoth Cave Park has a number of trails that need maintenance and/or reconstruction. We will work under direct supervision of Park Service personnel.

Other projects that Sierra Club groups have worked on include eradication of other invasive plant species, particularly Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven), Wysteria (i.e. "Wysteria gone wild"), or privet. Other past projects have included American butternut, American chestnut, or dogwood restoration (e.g. planting or evaluating survival of previously planted trees);endangered species surveys (e.g. ginseng); and prairie habitat restoration.

More than 300 photos from participants in the 2010 Mammoth Cave Service Trip can be viewed here.


Day 1: We'll get to know each other over our first trip meal, which is dinner. At 5 p.m., we'll meet in the dining hall, across from Maple Springs group campsite (directions will be sent in the Departure Bulletin).

Days 2-5: We'll work on our project, based on the needs of the Park Service.

Day 6: On our day off, you will have the opportunity to go on a special cave tour with a park naturalist, at no charge. Note: You may schedule additional cave tours at any time (e.g. late afternoon, evening) during the week. However these are not included in the trip cost and will be at your own expense.

Additional ideas for activities today (at your own cost) include:

  • Canoe/kayak rental for the Green River 
  • Horseback riding at a nearby stable (e.g. two- to six-hour rides are available)

Day 7: We'll say our goodbyes and depart after breakfast (our last trip meal).



Getting There

Most participants arrive by private car, though a few fly. Many arrange to share rides by carpooling with one another.

Regarding air travel, the nearest airports are Louisville and Nashville. Car rental or ride-sharing arrangements will be required from either airport.

By highway: From Louisville or Nashville, take I-65 to KY 255. Turn west onto KY 255 and travel about three miles to KY 70, then turn left. Mammoth Cave is about three miles on the right.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in a bunkhouse near Maple Springs group campsite. The bunkhouse and adjoining two buildings are in a secluded, quiet, and clean area. The bunkhouse has separate areas for men and women, and warm showers nearby. There is a large kitchen and dining area. For those who prefer more privacy, you may set up a tent on the lawn. A laundry facility is available at the visitor center campground about three miles away. (The visitor center also has individual cabins that you can rent at your own expense. It is possible to bicycle between the bunkhouse and visitor center, but there is a deep river valley between the two.)

Most folks are pleasantly surprised by the variety of food on our trips. This trip will emphasize vegetarian choices, but will not be strictly vegetarian. If you are a strict vegan you should talk to the trip cook before the trip. Additionally, if you have food allergies to common food items, the trip cook will want to talk to you to determine if it's possible to fit you in.

Trip Difficulty

This is an active trip that will involve hiking several miles each day, often over uneven or hilly terrain. It will include bending, lifting, digging, and hauling. You will have a better time and prevent injuries if you are in good shape before the trip starts. Also see comments below regarding poison ivy and ticks.

Equipment and Clothing

You will need a large day pack to carry your gear to the work site each day; a good rain suit (not a poncho, please); sturdy work gloves; water bottles (at least two liters worth); a Tupperware-type container with lid for carrying your lunch, a bowl, cup, and spoon for meals; and your own bedding (sleeping bag/pillow, or sheets and blankets if you prefer). Bring a towel for the shower (a bathmat might be desirable, too), and hiking boots that are well-broken-in. Regarding clothing, see below.

Bring a personal first-aid kit. You’ll probably want to bring your own sleeping bag (or your own sheets) for use in the bunkhouse. And you'll need a tent if you choose to sleep out on the lawn. If you have questions, contact the trip leader.

There is a lot of poison ivy in the park, which is impossible to avoid when working in the woods. You need to have a set of work clothes that you can take off immediately after working: long-sleeve shirt, long pants, high socks, gloves, etc. Of note, shorts are NOT suitable work attire; there are many thorny plants. Heavy pants (e.g. heavy jeans or other bush pants) are a good idea; thin nylon pants will easily snag and the thorns will go right through them. High-topped gaiters are a good idea though not required.

Additionally, you should bring a poison ivy cleanser. Poison ivy soap (like Dr. Bronner's Peppermint), rubbing alcohol, and a specialized product like Technu and Ivy Block are all recommended. We suggest bringing an anti-itch cream, like a cortisone cream -- just in case you get the rash. Rubbing alcohol is an excellent substitute for poison ivy soap and can be used when water is not handy. Tech Labs, Inc. makes a poison ivy cleanser called Technu. Local drugstores (e.g. CVS , Walgreens) usually carry it. There is a good article on poison ivy here.

There are LOTS of ticks in the Kentucky woods, and you should wear insect repellant and check for ticks every day. Wearing light-colored clothing makes them easier to see, and you might want to invest in clothing that is impregnated with permethrin.



  • Molloy, Johnny, A Falcon Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park: A Guide to Exploring the Caves, Trails, Roads, and Rivers (Exploring Series).
  • Klass, Raymond and Ronald R. Switzer, Mammoth Cave National Park Reflections.


  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map of Mammoth Cave National Park Scale 1 = 1:28,000. This map will be used throughout the week. It is available at the park visitor center.



The Beyond Coal campaign can be said to have originated in Kentucky, home of Peabody Coal.

The Thoroughbred Power Plant was recently defeated by a sustained effort led by Sierra Club volunteers.

Mountaintop removal is an ongoing issue in the Appalachian region.

Some invasive species are removable, particularly Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven).

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



A native Nebraskan, Vern Cook has been an obstetrician on the U of Louisville med school faculty for the past 24 years. Some of his other interests include running, helping with corn harvest on his family's farm in Nebraska, working on his 114-year-old house, folk music, and leading service trips to Hells Canyon, ID and Mammoth Cave, KY.


Jeanne Klimczak has both led and cooked for numerous service trips. She specializes in hearty vegetarian cuisine. She lives in Aurora, Illinois with her husband, Fred, and her 13-year-old daughter, Anna.


Pat Stevens

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