On Saturday, Feb. 10, the U.S. Forest Service, Coronado National Forest held a press conference to bring attention to the ongoing Peppersauce Cave graffiti removal project and to encourage responsible cave ethics.
Peppersauce Cave has been the focus of a multi-year, multi-phase removal project by Central Arizona Grotto.
Peppersauce Cave is located in Nugget Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains south of Oracle. The cave is the most heavily visited wild cave in Arizona. It draws an estimated 15,000 visitors per year. Although many recreational cavers act responsibly, there are those that leave behind trash and graffiti.
The graffiti removal project has been an ongoing effort by the Central Arizona Grotto (CAG) and the National Speleological Society (NSS). Two significant removal projects in eight work sessions between December, 2001 and June, 2003, and three sessions between February and June, 2010 were coordinated by Central Arizona Grotto and the Peppersauce Cave Conservation Project (PCCP) to remove graffiti and trash.
In 2017, CAG along with volunteers from Arizona State University’s Outdoor Club and southern Arizona cavers removed approximately 300 tags and 300 pounds of trash. They replaced kiosk panel covers and installed the first group of 14 highly reflective “OUT” signs. Ray Keeler of CAG, estimates that there are probably 1,500 tags to be removed. It will be quite an undertaking as the cave extends some 7,000 feet in length. Their latest clean up project was Feb. 9 through 11, 2018.
The graffiti clean up uses a complex system of a generator, compressor, high pressure hoses, extension cords, lighting and a communications system. Volunteers use glass beads for sandblasting and bristle brushes with biodegradable solvent to remove the tags and spread tarps to catch and collect the beads and excess solvent for removal from the cave.
CAG has entered into an agreement with the Forest Service to continue work in 2018. Their goals include:
• Clean/remove all graffiti in Peppersauce Cave and continue monitoring for new graffiti issues.
• Restore/replace signage on the trail to Peppersauce Cave.
• Replace reflective IN/OUT arrows in the ceiling to reduce graffiti arrow tags.
CAG will work throughout the year with other NSS groups and PCCP qualified individuals to fulfill the project goals.
The Coronado National Forest staff would like to remind anyone visiting the caves that caves are non-renewable resources, fragile and easily impacted. They encourage visitors to practice responsible use and cave conservation ethics which include:
• Move carefully through a cave to avoid damaging cave features.
• Pack it in, pack it out. Anything brought into a cave and left behind is out of place. Remove everything taken into the cave, including human waste.
• Leave what you find, never remove natural or historic features from a cave.
• Respect wildlife, avoid disturbing cave wildlife.
• Never tolerate intentional damage, defacing or artifact theft from caves. If you see something report it.