Route 66 News

Mitchell Caverns vandalized after state closes it

Mitchell Caverns, part of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, was extensively vandalized after it was closed last spring due to state budget cuts, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported:

Intruders cut fences, kicked doors off of hinges and shattered windows and display cases. They stole metal signs and survival gear, including hand-held radios, flashlights and binoculars. They also stole diesel-powered generators and ripped out thousands of feet of electrical wire used to illuminate the only natural limestone caverns in the state park system, San Bernardino County sheriff’s investigators said.

“What happened at the visitors center is devastating and heartbreaking,” said Kathy Weatherman, superintendent of the California Parks and Recreation Department’s Tehachapi District. She said the caverns themselves were not damaged. The state is taking steps to try to prevent more destruction, including searching for a full-time caretaker, Weatherman said. […]

State Parks and Recreation Department officials decided to mothball the area last May because of two unrelated events. The park’s two rangers retired and the state found serious problems with the water system, said Linda Slater, resource interpreter at the nearby Mojave National Preserve. The state couldn’t afford the repairs needed to keep the park open. […]

Park officials estimate the damage at $100,000.

State park advocates fear that more vandalism will occur at facilities that are closed. It’s hoped those parks will reopen when the state’s budget situation improves. But that’s no guarantee — only about a dozen of the state parks are financially self-sustaining.

The caverns were named after Jack Mitchell, who owned the caves from 1934 to 1954 as an attraction and rest stop for travelers on Route 66. Jack’s granddaughter, Sue Ellen Patrick, told the Times:

“My family feels betrayed because the state didn’t do what it promised us, which is protect the caves and the heritage.”

Maybe it’s time to deed over the caverns to a private trust that will renovate the complex or conserve it. That would certainly be a better situation than what’s happening now.