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Lost River Cave tour guide and weekend supervisor Roma King leads a group of visitors through the cave after the facility reopened its cave tours and gift shop on June 8., 2020. (Grace Ramey/photo@bgdailynews.com)

In what was a down year for tourism across the country, popular sites in southcentral Kentucky also saw fewer visitors in 2020.

Popular locations such as the Historic RailPark & Train Museum, the National Corvette Museum and Lost River Cave saw their numbers decrease.

RailPark & Train Museum Executive Director Jamie Johnson said the museum not only saw a decline in visitations but a decline in funding.

“In 2021, we are looking forward to moving the needle back to where we used to be,” Johnson said. “We kicked off 2020 with a huge initiative to fundraise over $40,000 and we only got to around 20% of that.”

Johnson added that while the number of people who donated did rise from 2019, the museum still saw a considerable overall decrease in funding.

In order to combat the pandemic, the RailPark had to adapt in a number of ways to safely still have events and move forward with fundraising.

For example, Johnson said several events had to be either canceled or reduced to limited capacity out of concern for public health.

The annual “Polar Express” event usually serves as a positive fundraiser for the museum but had limited capacity in 2020.

Moving into the new calendar year, Johnson remains optimistic that the RailPark will be able to have events such as Romance at the RailPark and Brunch with the Bunny at normal capacity in the near future.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the National Corvette Museum, which President and CEO Sean Preston said had a very strong year despite seeing a decrease in visitations.

“We didn’t just survive – we thrived,” Preston said of 2020. “During the shutdown, we installed four different galleries at the museum. Our donors were able to provide us with so much funding in 2020. We were a tremendous national story.”

Preston added that there were no full-time layoffs and every worker got paid despite the museum only averaging around 75% of its yearly attendance numbers.

“We were given incredible support locally, statewide and nationally,” Preston said. “The public and our 36,000 museum members have been awesome in continuing their trust in us.”

Preston said the museum adapted to the pandemic by becoming considerably more virtual.

One initiative was the Vette Academy, a daily virtual video series for students to learn while they were at home.

Also, the museum launched a virtual series called Fully Vetted, which is geared toward Corvette enthusiasts of all ages. The series has now since moved to a podcast format.

In 2021, the main goal of the National Corvette Museum is to host its two large annual events with full capacity.

The first of these events is the Michelin NCM Bash, which was held virtually in 2020. Over 2,000 people still managed to attend the bash last year despite the virtual setting.

The other large event is the museum’s 27th anniversary, which is scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Last year’s anniversary was held in person, but in limited capacity.

“We followed all the public health guidelines throughout this pandemic,” Preston said. “We really do hope to have our large events in person in 2021. We will still continue to offer new and exciting content no matter what.”

Preston added that the National Corvette Museum will also be pursuing official Smithsonian affiliation during 2021.

Lost River Cave was another tourism spot in Bowling Green that suffered a loss of visitors in 2020.

According to Operations Manager Chad Singer, visitations at the site usually run between 55,000 to 70,000 a year, but their numbers were only half of that in 2020.

“We were kind of left in the dark for a while on what we could do,” Singer said. “We were completely different from other places. So, we just did everything we could to keep our staff safe, and we constantly asked what the best ways were to keep visitors safe.”

Singer said staff played a huge part in the decision-making process on how to approach the pandemic.

While capacity was limited, there was still a “huge concentration” on sanitizing the boats used for tours throughout every day.

“Thank God for our reservation system,” Singer said. “It really did make everything easier for us and for our visitors.”

Singer said he is still nervous about the new year, but everyone is preparing and looking forward to another year of boat tours for the public.

“Overall, we need to reevaluate our programs and hit the drawing board,” Singer said. “We just want to try and hire more staff while fostering an appreciation for nature in the community.”

Singer added that there will be a “big focus” on volunteer events as he said those do a great job of getting people to the site. There are multiple volunteer opportunities already planned for January.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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