Cave Dwelling Dust Bunnies: Lint Accumulation and Microplastics in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
As Montana’s only “show cave”, Lewis and Clark Caverns attracts 65,000 people annually during the summer season, from May to September. Tours are guided, and visitors may pass through carefully but still leave lint particles behind. As these particles get deposited and build up, they have the potential to damage cave formations and alter the existing low energy environment. In order to understand how lint affects cave environments more exploratory information is needed. There does not appear to be methods developed for measuring lint accumulation, or identifying what the lint is made from. With this in mind, this study attempted to answer questions about lint accumulation and identification in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Ultimately, the results from this study would be applied to help cave management decipher which areas are most impacted by lint, and therefore develop mitigation methods to lessen impacts. Many other “show caves” have utilized lint suppression techniques such as using wind tunnels and misters to prevent lint from being deposited in the cave. Due to the unique nature and location of the Lewis and Clark cave system, lint suppression techniques used at other locations will not work; therefore low tech techniques such as using brushes to get fibers off before entering the cave, were explored instead. Overall, this study was successful in setting up future research opportunities by providing a baseline of lint accumulation and composition, which can be used to compare with studies conducted in the future.