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How to Win the War

When you rappel into Neversink and find an empty beer can at the bottom of the rope, are you the one caver in ten who picks it up?

Organized cavers traditionally appoint one poor soul as a "Conservation Committee," and delegate all conservation tasks onto that one set of shoulders. The rest of us breath easier. We might attend the occasional cleanup trip, but most of us won't pick up a beer can at the bottom of a pit. I guess we figure the Conservation Committee will take care of it.

In the preface to the 1976 SERA Cave Carnival Guidebook, Paula Spencer complained that while a lot of cavers talked conservation, very few took positive action. All these years later, Paula's words still ring true.

It's too easy to say that the war is an impossible one to win. There are just too many rednecks out there, you say, spraying paint and laying string and tossing cans. We can't change their attitudes. Actually, that's not completely true. Trash breeds trash. One beer can soon leads to a pile of twenty; one arrow on the wall would seem to be enough to point the way out, but three more get painted next to it, because the idea itself is contagious. Painting arrows and dropping cans becomes the accepted thing to do. But the same concept can be used to our advantage.

What does the new caver think when he or she sees not just one person but everyone around him routinely picking up trash, erasing arrows, and winding up string? The message conveyed can be more powerful than any words we might preach. Caver see, caver do. Along with a trendy Petzl hardhat and a Lost Creek pack, the new caver learns to carry a garbage bag.

Yes, there are a lot of rednecks out there trashing caves, but there are a lot of us, too. As long as there is one caver fighting back for every redneck, then we're not just breaking even, we're winning.

And it all starts with picking up that one beer can.

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