Since the 1920s, visitors to the historic caverns on the border of Champaign and Logan counties have followed the same roughly mile-long tour underneath the 35-acre park. Now, two new tours will be added to the caverns, creating four to six new jobs and attracting thousands of new visitors from the region, owner Eric Evans said.
Ohio has seven commercial caves, the largest being Ohio Caverns. During the peak season between Memorial and Labor Day, the business employs about 36 full- and part-time workers.
Evans said the caverns typically draw about 60,000 visitors each year.
Because about 50 percent of the park’s visitors come from outside Ohio, it creates additional revenue for other businesses throughout the county. Evans said. He estimated that, through recommendations, the park fills about 500 room nights at local hotels and motels each year.
Marcia Bailey, interim director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, said tourism plays a significant role in the local economy. Events like the annual barn quilt tour bring out-of-state visitors. She said 13 events have already been planned in the county from May to December this year.
Bailey couldn’t put exact figures on tourism economic impact, but said when the county can draw new visitors, it helps everyone.
“The more we can get people here and see what’s available, the better off we’ll be,” Bailey said.
Evans said when caverns owners typically open up new sections, it leads to a significant increase in business the first year. Although it levels off over time, there will likely be a permanent increase in visitors to the park, Evans said.
“When you develop or open a new cave, you’ll get that initial bump of 15,000 to 20,000 visitors,” he said.
Planning to open new sections of the caverns began in earnest in about 2007. To clear the thick clay-like mud from the caverns, workers eventually found it was easiest to do so one wheel barrow at a time.
“It’s been a long time coming, five years,” Evans said. “But it’s been fun.”
Tours will include the Natural Wonder tour, a Historic tour and a smaller Limestone tour.
Visitors with physical handicaps will be able to tour a section of the caverns for the first time. Near the park’s office and gift shop, a lengthy sidewalk and a series of ramps make a small section of the caverns handicapped-accessible.
The Ohio Caverns were formed thousands of years ago when an underground river cut a path through limestone, creating a series of large rooms and passageways.
Deposits of minerals in the Earth have left sections of the cavern walls in bright shades of red, copper and blue. Throughout the caverns, thousands of crystal stalactites and stalagmites of various sizes line the ceilings and floor.
The caverns are open year-round, but regardless of the season, the caverns retain a steady 54-degree temperature.
Evans said relatively few visitors from Champaign and Logan counties visit the caverns, but about half of its visitors are from Ohio. About 30 percent of visitors are from states that border Ohio, and another 10 percent each are from the rest of the U.S. or are international travelers.
Evans said the new tours will give visitors more options, provide additional educational experiences and hopefully encourage visitors to spend more time both in the park and in Champaign County.
“It just allows us the opportunity to service another group of clientele,” Evans said.
Source: Dayton Daily News