“Our biggest challenge is that we have more steps than any other cave in the region,” said Dave Foster, director of American Cave Museum, the nonprofit organization that operates the cave.
“In order for us to compete with other attractions, we’ve got to address this issue,” Foster said.
The stairs are not only a barrier to the physically disabled, but also to overweight visitors or seniors who just don’t want to take the trek down into the cave.
“It’s really a hard sell for the front desk,” Foster said. “They say we’ve got this really great cave and, oh by the way, there are all these steps.”
Foster said some visitors walk away after that.
“We want to be able to attract senior bus tours,” he said.
Hidden River Cave is owned by the city of Horse Cave.
“We don’t have anybody with a bunch of money waiting to invest in us,” he said. “So we’ve built this cave a few hundred thousand dollars at a time over the last 20 years.”
To make the cave more accessible, Foster and others want to install an incline elevator that would essentially be a box on an inclined track. Multiple people could ride to the mouth of the cave in that box, which would cost about $300,000.
Foster also is looking to expand the explored portion of the cave.
“Right now the tour only goes through a very small portion of the cave,” he said.
The tour is along about 1,000 feet. To get to some of the more spectacular parts of the cave, including a dome room, the tour would need to grow by about 2,000 feet. Now, only wilding tours go that far, but they require a lot of climbing, giving greater risk of injury to cavers.
“So we don’t do those very often,” Foster said.
The expansion would include walkways to make the tour safer and it also might eliminate some of the steps inside the cave on the existing tour.
To pay for the project, Horse Cave Mayor Randall Curry said he applied last month for a $500,000 nontraditional Community Development Block Grant.
“We are hoping to raise at least $75,000 to go with that so we can do just more than the bare minimum,” Foster said. “We want to people to improve the lighting and maybe even repair the hydro-electrical equipment so we can run the lights in the cave.”
At one time, the hydro-electrical equipment supplied the electricity for Horse Cave. It also was a highly polluted cave, or mere “hole,” as Foster described it.
After the Caveland Sanitation Authority was built in the region and farmers in the region improved conservation methods, the cave’s ecosystem greatly improved.
Hidden River Cave gets about 10,000 visitors a year.
We really think by adding the elevator and expanding the tour we can double those numbers,” Foster said. “That’s really where we need to be to meet our operating costs. It may take a couple of years, but feel that it’s doable.”
Curry is excited about the possibility of opening the cave to even more visitors and to the community, which was recently designated a Certified Cultural District.
Horse Cave was in the state’s first batch of five Certified Cultural Districts, a designation that recognizes the community’s dedication to promoting arts, history and other cultural aspects of the community, which also includes Kentucky Repertory Theatre. Other designated communities include Berea, Covington, Danville and Paducah.
In Bowling Green, Lost River Cave had an issue with the accessibility of its cave when a scooter-bound guest was turned away in 2011.
Cave operators weren’t required to make any physical changes to the cave but were required to write a policy that stipulates the issues visitors may encounter on the tour.
“We let them read that and it is up to them to decide if they still want to take the tour,” said Rho Lansden, executive director of Lost River Cave and Valley. “We can’t turn them away.”
Lansden said a family member can drive the visitor to the mouth of the cave if that will make it easier for them.
Source: BG Daily News