CAVE CITY – Did you know that Kentucky’s cave country, the state’s oldest tourism area, was once at war? An economic war, to be exact.
Back in 1920, owners of caves throughout Mammoth Cave Ridge and Flint Ridge competed for tourists with the humongous Mammoth Cave Estate.
Employees of caves such as Colossal Cave and Great Onyx Cave were known to make false claims to Mammoth Cave-bound motorists – such as non-existent road closures – in an effort to steer them away, according to the National Park Service.
Nowadays, however, such a war is unlikely thanks to the Caveland Marketing Association, which hosted its annual Legislative Luncheon on Monday with the theme “Beyond Cave Wars.”
As part of the state Department of Tourism, the Caveland Marketing Association brings county, regional and state tourism businesses and commissions together to collaboratively advertise all that the cavelands have to offer through various marketing strategies.
During the luncheon at Cave City Convention Center, tourism and business representatives sat with government officials to learn about and discuss area tourism and its economic impact.
Last year, tourism in caveland counties Barren, Edmonson and Hart contributed more than $140 million in visitor revenue, upward of 1,000 jobs and generated the equivalent of more than $10 million in state and local taxes, according to the state tourism department.
“I think our working standard has produced this energy that continues to help our area grow,” Sandra Wilson, executive director of the Horse Cave/Hart County Tourist Commission said.
In 2019, among other things, the association created a cave country map, hosted a cave area celebration where attendees learned about local attractions and received a Traverse Award for Excellence in Tourism.
Wilson hopes the marketing strategies coupled with tourism-related initiatives completed this year will help increase the three counties’ future economic impact.
The initiatives range from a $10.7 million expansion at Jellystone Campground in Barren County to lengthening a walkway at Hidden River Cave in Hart County.
“We’re focusing a lot now on intercepting people now who are in the area to circulate them (throughout cave country),” Wilson said. “So we do advertising at the Hart County rest areas (and) we are represented at Mammoth Cave National Park.”
The 500,000-plus visitors at Mammoth Cave National Park in 2018 contributed an estimated $45.1 million in spending throughout the cavelands, which helped support nearly 600 jobs and $22 million in labor income.
The Caveland Marketing Association currently helps staff the park’s visitor center through “one of the park’s longest strategic partnerships” that began in 1993, said Barclay Trimble, superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park.
The association also designed a park brochure and launched mammothcavefun.com this year, which serve as informational tools to draw visitors.
“Partnerships (are) something we strive to continue to build and to rely upon … (for a) tourism-kind of aspect that we do not provide in the park,” Trimble said.
Mammoth Cave began several projects this year including improvements to the Green River Ferry, the Grand Avenue and Wild Cave tours, along with efforts to reopen Wondering Woods Cave, which has been closed for more than 50 years.
Trimble said the park accomplished a lot in 2019, and he hopes to keep the momentum going into 2020.
“I think if we can kick off some construction projects and give some facelifts to some old and tired buildings that need to be replaced, I think that will be a good start.”