MAMMOTH CAVE — Despite cutbacks at Mammoth Cave National Park, there still are plenty of opportunities for the more than 500,000 people who visit the park annually.
“Except for our heaviest days, most people will be able to get a cave tour,” park Superintendent Sarah Craighead told board members of the Barren River Area Development District who gathered Monday at the park for their monthly meeting.
As part of complying with federal automatic spending cuts, the park did, at least for now, eliminate the Grand Avenue and Snowball tours, but that still leaves nine other tours. Craighead said making reservations is the best way to ensure visitors get the tours they want.
Other cuts at the park have been made to supply purchases, travel and overtime. Four vacant positions have not been filled, and 11 seasonal employees won’t be hired this year. Craighead said she will have to find additional cuts. It was first thought reductions needed to total $316,000, but on Monday she learned it needed to be $324,000.
Still, the cuts should not be noticeable to visitors, she said.
It’s important to keep visitors satisfied because their impact is broader than in just the park. Between what visitors spend at the park and in the area and what Mammoth Cave National Park spends to support operations and for the salaries of its employees, the park has an annual economic impact of about $33 million in the region, Craighead said.
The park just finished a very busy spring break season.
“We had 44,000 people in 17 days,” Assistant Superintendent Bruce Powell said.
Normally, the season is at least a week longer, but spring breaks across the country are closer together than in previous years.
Last year, 401,000 people toured the cave and an additional 107,000 visitors participated in other park activities such as biking, hiking, camping and horseback riding.
Craighead said the sequester did not impact the funding for maintenance and other project work that had been scheduled. This summer, there will be parking for more horse trailers added to the trailhead at Maple Springs and an 8-mile mountain bike trail will be constructed at Big Hollow.
There also are plans for mountain bike trails to be added around nearby Nolin Lake. With both trail systems in the same vicinity, Craighead said they should make the area more of a destination for mountain bikers.
Other work planned includes some upgrades to the elevator.
“When something takes you down 260 feet into the ground, you want it to work properly,” Craighead said. “It had become somewhat unreliable.”
The utilities that are now run through the elevator shaft will be moved and the inside of the shaft will be coated to prevent water leaching.
Craighead said the repairs will allow the park to once again offer tours with more accessibility for those people who can’t take stairs.