Graffiti Removal Project


Bloomington Cave



Check out the Project's Video!


Project Introduction

A project has begun this year to remove the graffiti covering the walls of Bloomington Caves. The project, headed by Kyle Voyles, is using Ray Keeler's sandblasting equipment and techniques originally developed and used to remove graffiti in Peppersauce Cave outside of Phoenix, AZ.


This project has been many years in the making. Kyle and I have long considered how the appreciation of the cave would change if we could somehow remove all of the graffiti and trash. Our thinking was if we could get the community involved in restoring the cave, then interest and appreciation would increase to manage and maintain the cave. The only missing ingredient was getting attention. We thought the attention might come as a result of most all neglected cave resources - a rescue. Christmas 2002, it happened. Now every cave restoration idea was more given more serious consideration by the BLM.



Graffiti - Before and After



Brandon Kowallis collecting trash in one of the highly tagged rooms


In the past, we tried several methods of removing graffiti - chemicals and wire brushes powered with drills. None of the methods proved efficient enough to successfully complete the project on any reasonable time frame. Swapping ideas back and forth, our colleague, Jason Knight told us about his experience using sandblasting to remove graffiti at Peppersauce Cave . At the California NSS Convention, I was able to participate in Ray Reeler's demonstration. Immediately after meeting, Ray and I started talking about creating a project at Bloomington Cave . Kyle then got together with Ray Keeler at the Cathedral Cave Gating Project to work out the necessary details.

How does it work?

Graffiti is removed using portable sandblasting equipment. An air compressor on the surface pumping through several thousand feet of hose delivers the high pressure needed to shoot thousands of small glass beads that abrade off the layers of graffiti. The layers of paint come off just about as fast as they were sprayed on. Tarps and vacuums sweepers are used to recycle the beads and to keep them from being left in the cave.


The sandblasting technique can actually remove layers of skin and get caught in your eyes. Keeler's outfit includes all of the needed safety equipment. He has hoods and goggles to protect the eyes. Respirators are included to keep the beads from being inhaled. He also has a few sets of caving helmets and lights to help outfit local volunteers.


This is a very laborious restoration project. Possibly the largest scaled cave restoration project ever started in Utah . I suspect the project is big enough to keep 12 to 15 volunteers busy for 6 to 8 entire weekends. The project also will have a few folks to collect trash, install signs, create trails, cook, make promotional designs, and entertain the media.



Kyle Voyles rigged and ready to remove graffiti from the Boardwalk



Scout, Jon Albrethsen, removing graffiti with sandblasting gun

Weekend #1 - Jan 14 to 16

The project had the great fun of dodging St. George's flood damage. The main road to Bloomington Caves was not accessible due to the Santa Clara bridge flooding away on the Tuesday before the first weekend. We had to haul the equipment trailer up the road while following the still flowing wash. Several spots had to be dug to get the equipment to the cave. Friday night (Jan 14), we struggled for 2-1/2 hours to reach the cave from St. George - normally a 40 minute drive.


The flood didn't stop us; the first weekend (Jan 15-16) was a success! Approximately 60 to 100 tags were removed by 35 volunteers over the 2 days. Graffiti was removed from the cave's entrance to the Boardwalk. Volunteers came from Salt Lake, Phoenix, San Diego, Kanab, and, of course, St. George.

Weekend #2 - Feb 4 to 6

This weekend went much more smoothly as St. George recovers from its flood. With the Santa Clara Bridge fixed, getting equipment and people to the cave wasn't an issue. This weekend had 9 volunteers to finish the areas around the entrance and the Boardwalk that required roped safety lines and ladders.


The highlight of this weekend was the great press coverage! The Spectrum newspaper had a front page article covering the efforts of the project. This positive coverage will greatly help create public interest and support for the BLM's effort in producing a comprehensive Cave Management Plan for the cave.


Weekend #3 - Feb 18 to 21

This was a weird weekend, as far as normal procedures went. Kyle's wife, Maria, was ready to deliver so Kyle commuted from his house to Bloomington Cave each day. Saturday started with Kyle taking her to hospital due to intense labor pains. We had lots of rain and very few volunteers. We only had four volunteers that worked through the weekend. However, we did complete the room below the Boardwalk to the top of the Big Room.


Spectrum front page article on our efforts


Doug Powell with safety gear


Weekend #4 - March 4 to 6

The law of entropy kicks in. This weekend, as Jason Knight would put it, was "epic." Kyle was at home during the weekend with his new daughter Kendra and helping his wife recover from a few complications. At the last minute most everyone backed out--only 3 people showed up. However, the lack of people wasn't the problem. We were able to sneak the equipment from its BLM holding. While in transport the toe hitch completely detached from the vehicle's frame. Jason and I tried to rig the hitch back on using biners and rope. However, at 12:30 a.m. departing Bloomington Cave visitor, Dan Shakespeare passed by and offered to pull the trailer for us to the cave. We got started working again in the morning. Jason, Ted Smith, and I completely set up and had all 3 guns blasting graffiti away. We stopped the generator and compressor when we took our lunch break. When we were ready to return to work, the compressor would not start. After about 20 attempts the pull-string broke. With no way to fix the problem, we proceeded in bringing out all of the gear and loading it on the trailer.


Weekend #5 - March 18 to 20

All repairs were completed and work continued with 9 hard-working volunteers. We have reached the bottom of the cave and the farthest point the gear needs to be hauled into. We pushed down the main route into the Big Room, the Fanny Flume, and started work on removing graffiti at the bottom of the cave. Besides some unexpected strong winds and light snow, everything went very smoothly.


Weekend #6 - April 1 to 3

Work continued at the bottom of the cave with 7 participants. Most all of the graffiti at the bottom was removed expect the extreme southern end. Amazingly, we had a full weekend without any rain and the high was in the mid-70s.

Weekend #7 - April 15 to 17

The project has reached completion. This weekend 12 volunteer finished the bottom section of the cave only leaving graffiti in the Sandbox Room. At the conclusion of the weekend, all of the gear was removed from the bottom of the cave and prepared to be transported to Tennessee.


We added flagged routes. White flagging through the South Entrance to the bottom of the Big Room and green flagging from the North Entrance to the Boardwalk on the white flagged route. Hopeful many more routes will be flagged in the future.


The last weekend has been cancelled due to numerous conflicts and reaching a nice stopping place. Maybe in next year we will look into reserving the equipment again to focus effort in removing graffiti from the areas accessed from the North Entrance.



Jason Ballenski removing graffiti from a high ledge


In the end, this project is completely changing how Bloomington Cave is being managed. If the project would have been taken on by the BLM only, the project would have cost $85,000! Cavers contributed an approximate value of $83,000 in donated equipment ($65,000) and volunteer time ($18,000 or 1061 hours)! This amount of effort creates change. A Cave Management Plan is being drafted. Cave gates, signage, bathrooms, delineated parking, trail improvements, and additional graffiti removal efforts are being considered.


Specials Thanks to all of the Volunteers!

The success of this project is because of their continued support.


Jan 14 to 16 Weekend: Kyle Voyles (Project Leader, BLM contact), Ray Keeler (Equipment Owner), Jon Jasper, Jason Knight, Dale Green, Doug Powell, Dave Stratfrod, Val Stratford, Mike Beard, Rachael Keske, Justin Epps, James Glenn, Matt Reece, Curtis Racker, Rock Steel, Nate Phelps, Jon Albrethsen, Derek Alred, Kyle Sevy, Jordan Thorton, Bryce Wallentine, Miqueas Ottonelli, Dale Sevy, Clayton Wright, Jeff Walker, Lorin Steel, Ted Christiansen, Matt Shumway, Daniel Gray, DJ Walker, Patrick Glenn, Kendric Glenn, Perry Lambert, Perry Lambert's daughter, and Gene Sturznegger.


Feb 4 to 6 Weekend: Kyle Voyles (Project Leader, BLM contact), Jon Jasper, Dale Green, Rachael Keske, Justin Epps, Harrison Holden, Gene Sturzenegger, Mike Walsh, and Jeff Volp.


Feb 18 to 21 Weekend: Kyle Voyles (Project Leader, BLM contact), Jon Jasper, Doug Powell, Max Powell, Mike Walsh, Max Walsh, Miles?, and Mike?.


March 4 to 6 Weekend: Jon Jasper, Jason Knight, Ted Smith, Kyle Voyles, and Darrell Voyles


March 18 to 20 Weekend: Kyle Voyles, Darrell Voyles, Jon Jasper, Justin Epps, Rachel Keske, Megan Porter, Katherina Dittmar, Militia Wilder, Doug Powell, and Paula Branstner.


April 1 to 3 Weekend: Kyle Voyles, Jon Jasper, Justin Epps, Rachel Keske, Doug Powell, Ted Smith, and Jeff Volp.


April 15 to 17 Weekend: Kyle Voyles, Darrell Voyles, Jon Jasper, Justin Epps, Rachel Keske, Doug Powell, Megan Porter, Katherina Dittmar, Max Powell, Jason Ballenski, Rosane Bowman, and Sue Bennet



Map showing the project's final progress


Copyright 2005 Jon Jasper

Maintained by Jon Jasper - last updated November 28, 2005