Carlsbad Caverns officials looking for ways to minimize human impact

New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. While that’s good for tourism, it’s not the best thing for the caves themselves. 

It’s something you may not think about, but if you’ve visited Carlsbad Caverns you’ve left something behind – from lint, to hair, to skin. 

“People are shedding hair. They’re shedding lint, as their arms and legs are brushing together walking the trail. All this stuff builds up,” park official Rod Horrocks said. 

Park Ranger Rod Horrocks says while you take in the breathtaking sights, you may be unintentionally polluting it. 

They say all that human shedding piles up into a thick gray mat. 

Most visitors had no idea. 

“Thought of writing on walls and things like that, leaving trash or whatever, but never hair,” visitors Diane Fojaco and Annette Hillring said. “Just inadvertently you don’t realize, just inadvertently you’re having an impact.” 

The park has volunteers that come regularly to clean the trails. They say last year alone, they cleaned 44 pounds of lint and hair. 

“It’s just nasty. If we didn’t clean all the time, we’d be in trouble,” Horrocks said. 

Park officials say that’s just the start of the human footprint. 

An intern out of Germany spent the last four months collecting data from the cave to help determine the impact of humans on this ancient creation. 

“He looked at things like carbon dioxide levels, noise level. Breathing, CO2, raises the CO2 levels in the cave,” Horrocks said. 

Oils from humans’ skin can also change the colors of the cave formations. 

“And we don’t want to do that. The Park Service mission is to conserve, but also to allow future generations to enjoy,” he said. 

Horrocks thinks minimizing human impact is a start. 

They say spreading visitors out is one thing that helps. The student showed when more people are inside, the human impact is bigger. 

Everyone agrees, something needs to be done. 

“If we mess it up, it’s not going to be there for the future,” visitor Cecil Rayborn said.

Last year, around 500,000 people visited the caverns. 

Park officials are still assessing the data and haven’t made any policy changes. For now, they’re encouraging people to come during non-peak times, and are talking about reducing the number of people in their guided tours. 

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