Rosemary Mallonée and Dylan Wimpee, 16, fill tanks with water, which they will use to loosen dirt that has hardened over flowstone in the rimstone room of the Oregon Caves. - Jamie Lusch

Low-tech learning

CAVE JUNCTION — Chloe Shinerock, 16, was out of breath when she finished the almost quarter-mile uphill hike to the exit of the Oregon Caves. She unzipped her work uniform — dirt-caked nylon coveralls with knee pads — and took off her sweatshirt, already too warm.

"The entrance is a lot easier," Shinerock said.

Temperatures changed dramatically as Shinerock descended the 110 steps into the Oregon Caves, which are a chilly 44 degrees Fahrenheit, where she spent Friday morning at work.

Shinerock and Dylan Wimpee, 16, both found their summer jobs in the caves throughthe Youth Conservation Corps summer program. Correction: See below.

For corps workers Shinerock and Wimpee, Friday included something not typical of a summer job: cleaning dirt and rocks off flowstone, collecting crystals and preserving rimstone in a room inside the monument.

Wimpee, who will finish his eight-week term at the caves next week, has done preservation work in the caves four times.

"This isn't really my type of thing," he said while perched on hands and knees in the cave, spraying dirt from the flowstone he was cleaning. "But most of the time it's OK."

Friday's in-cave task was helping volunteer Hester Mallonée, of Federal Way, Wash., restore slabs of rock in the rimstone room. When they reached the work site, Shinerock and Wimpee were instructed on proper lifting techniques, dirt removal and, most importantly, where not to step. A step in the wrong place could damage the stone, Mallonée said.

She has worked on the restoration project during vacations since 2003. This year she had help from her 17-year-old daughter, Rosemary. It was the first time she had help from YCC workers.

"It is a blessing beyond compare," Mallonée said. "This is a low-tech environment, so more hands means we can work faster and better."

Many YCC workers who do summer work in the caves aren't interested in making a career of it, said Elizabeth Hale, physical science technician at the monument.

"For many it's their first job and they're learning how to work," said John Roth, natural resources specialist at the caves.

The Oregon Caves has received a yearly grant from the YCC since 1989, which allows them to take on two student workers every year. Workers do routine in- and out-of-cave tasks, such as archiving historical papers in the visitors center, spraying algae on the cave lights and weeding in the forest.

"There's a diversity of jobs," said Roth. "We don't cater to what they like or dislike; that is part of any job."

Shinerock and Wimpee worked in the rimstone room until noon Friday before switching to another task. The variety of jobs keeps them busy and interested.

"You never know what to expect until the day of," Shinerock said.

Earlier this week Shinerock and Wimpee raked (literally) the forest searching for underground mushrooms, a task called truffling.

"There're a lot of mushrooms out there," Hale said.

Shinerock and Wimpee both said it was one of their favorite jobs. Mushrooms, as well as other species of plants and animals (mostly bugs) at the caves are monitored and recorded on a species list.

Monitoring species is another of the YCC workers' jobs. Shinerock and Hale spent a couple of hours earlier this week identifying bugs on the walls and floor of the caves.

Friday was Shinerock's fourth day working at the Oregon Caves. She spent the first part of her summer vacation "at the river," she said, and working Mondays at a salon where she got free tanning.

"I needed a job to pay for gas," Shinerock said. She dumped another trowel full of dirt and rocks into a half-empty bucket and said, "You just have to be patient."

Reach intern Stacey Barchenger at 776-4464 or e-mail her at

Correction: This story originally included an incorrect reference to a state program, although the workers featured are part of a seperate federal program.

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