CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) – The sheer size of the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is awe-inspiring to most visitors.
While on the trail and taking in the magnificent formations of the cave, most probably aren’t paying attention to the ground they are walking on.
For a group of volunteers at the cave, though, the focus was at their feet as they used brushes to painstakingly remove lint gathered on and near the trail.
The synthetic brushes carry a slight charge, so the lint sticks.
“If we didn’t clean this every year, everything would be a gray, dark, ugly color,” cave specialist Rod Horrocks said.
Not only that, Horrocks said, the lint could also contribute to the destruction of the cave’s resources.
“Water will condense on the lint and this water is aggressive,” Horrocks said. “It’ll start dissolving whatever surface it’s on so if it’s on our formation, then it’s going to start dissolving the cave formations.”
Most formations in the cave are safe, though. Horrocks said the lint stays mostly on the trail thanks to 18-inch “lint curbs” that line it.
Volunteer Kelli Housley, who also works as a ranger in the park, said collecting the lint is a way for people to see firsthand how humans affect the environment.
“I talk a lot about the effects of people on the cave, and I thought it’d be an interesting opportunity to actually experience that for myself,” Housley said. “You can talk all you want about the cave and our effects, but actually experiencing that gives you a deeper understanding.”
Horrocks said the park has attempted to solve the lint problem by using blowers, misting down, and even vacuuming visitors in the past, but clothing begins to shed lint regardless around halfway through the hike.
The lint is made up not only of tiny bits of clothing fiber, but also strands of hair and skin cells.
Horrocks said they had hoped to clear the entire main corridor trail of lint this year, but they’re only a third of the way through.
“It’s a daunting task,” he said. “It takes so many people.”
Horrocks said the park welcomes groups, like Girl and Boy Scouts of America, to come out and volunteer to collect lint.
It only takes around 30 minutes of training, he said.
For more information about lint picking at Carlsbad Caverns, call cave technician Ellen Trautner at (575) 785-3107.