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Commercial cave lures in visitors

Commercial cave lures in visitors
Commercial cave lures in visitors
Tour guide Kathie Ponder makes her way to the front of the boat to steer a group through the underground river on opening day Saturday at Indiana Caverns. Photo by Ross Schulz (click for larger version)

In the introductory video for those about to embark on the tour of Indiana Caverns, the narrator speaks of people being drawn by the ‘lure of going where no man has gone before.’
Although a few people had been in the cave working to get it ready for the public, many people were drawn by that same lure Saturday with the long-anticipated opening of Indiana Caverns, the first public entrance to Indiana’s longest cave, just southwest of Corydon.
‘We had a big wave at the beginning; everyone wanted to be on the first tour,’ Laura Roberson, Indiana Caverns HR and guest relations, said.
Marketing manager Carol Groves said more than 600 people visited during the weekend, and the caverns welcomed its first school group Monday morning.
Tour guide Kathie Ponder led one of the first tours for the public and said she was nervous and excited for it.
‘But it went well,’ she said.
Roberson said three visitors were waiting at 8 a.m. (the caverns opened at 9) for tickets to be on the first tour.
Roberson’s husband, Gary, is a cave enthusiast and founding partner and also the author of ’50 Years Under the Sinkhole Plain,’ which is for sale at the cavern’s gift shop.
Throughout the day Saturday, Roberson was re-quested to the front desk to autograph copies of his book purchased by visitors.
Visitors came from all over Indiana, as well as Tennessee, Illinois and Ohio. One couple, Austin and Danielle Edwards, traveled from Fort Wayne to see Indiana Caverns.
The couple ‘googled’ caverns in Indiana and found Indiana Caverns. They then made the more than four-hour trip the night before and camped at a local campground so they could visit the cave on its opening day, Austin Edwards said.
The couple was part of a 16-person tour that also included Jimmy Nye and his son, Chance, of Corydon.
Chance’s favorite part of the tour was seeing the multiple bear wallows or dens where bears would come in the cave and sleep.
‘I love it,’ Jimmy Nye said. ‘I think everybody should come check it out. The water boat ride was fantastic.’
Discovered in 2010, it is the first show cave to open in Indiana in 40 years.
Visitors begin the tour with a walk down a hallway from the gift shop area, through two sets of air-locked double doors, down a steep chute similar to what the president and his entourage took during the movie ‘Independence Day’ at Area 51.
Waiting at the end of the tunnel is not an alien life form, but it is another world entirely that cave enthusiasts ‘ or anyone with a pulse ‘ will find breath-taking.
Tours include both walking sections and a boat ride as part of the 80-minute tour. Features of the tour include a 35-foot waterfall, heights and depths, formations and the bones of ice-age animals.
The cave has been a boon for paleontologists, as numerous peccary bones, as well as bones from bison, bear, birds, snakes, owls, beavers and boreal red back vole (similar to a mouse), were discovered in the cave. And just earlier this year, bones from a large porcupine and a passenger pigeon were also found.
An active paleontologist dig can be seen on a portion of the tour before the boat ride.
Indiana Caverns is part of the Binkley Cave System, Indiana’s longest cave system at 36-plus miles. Development was initiated on May 31 last year by a small team led by two men, including Roberson, who also developed Squire Boone Caverns from 1971 to 1973.
The largest room in the cavern was named ‘Big Bone Mountain’ by the initial discoverers who assumed bones scattered throughout the room were those of farm livestock such as cows, horses and pigs. Paleontologists immediately recognized the age of the bones on a visit to the room in July 2012. The ice-age animal bones were all identified by Indiana State Museum paleontologist Ron Richards from surface surveys in the cavern.
These animals entered the cave via a passage that appears to have closed roughly 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age and may date back as far as 30,000 years ago. No evidence of humans entering the cave prior to 2010 has been found.
The cave also features numerous bear beds or ‘wallows,’ ancient claw marks and a diverse cave life. With 21 species of cave troglobites, the cave system is considered a rare biologic ‘hot spot’ for biodiversity by researchers.
Surface facilities at Indiana Caverns include interpretive displays in the lobby and media room, a walking trail that relates karst features to the cave below, a picnic area, a gemstone and fossil mining area and a gift shop.
The cost for a tour is $18 for adults and $9 for children.
Groups, including schools and other organized groups, may receive reduced rates.
Indiana Caverns, located at 1267 Green Acres Lane SW, is open daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (hours will reduce to 5 p.m. November through March).
Groves said contractors installed the final lights in the cave at about 3 a.m. Saturday leading up to the opening.
For more information and a detailed look at all aspects of the cave, including how it was discovered, visit online at indianacaverns.com or call 734-1200.

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