A section of Mammoth Cave crucial to a number of tours is expected to close for more than a year.
Mammoth Cave National Park Public Information Officer Molly Schroer said that sometime this fall, the national park expects to close a two-mile section of the cave stretching from the Snowball Room to an area known as Grand Central Station for about 18 months for renovations.
“We’re going to be working on the steps and the handrails on this section of the cave to make them more user-friendly,” she said. “We’re also going to make the path smoother and more durable so it can take the thousands of people that go through there each year and make it more sustainable.”
Schroer said the renovations are needed because the dirt and stone that make up the floor of that section of the cave, which was originally laid in the 1930s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps program, has become degraded through decades of foot traffic.
“As people go through there, they wear down the dirt,” she said.
Beyond the possibility of uneven sections of the ground causing some visitors to trip, Schroer said the condition of the pathways don’t pose any danger.
For now, the exact date this stretch of the cave would shut down is not certain, Schroer said, adding that park staff are still discussing this with the contractor.
The renovations would close the Grand Avenue Tour and the Wild Cave Tour for the entire 18-month period, she said.
Additionally, the Domes and Dripstones and Frozen Niagara tours will be closed during the renovations’ second phase, she said, adding that when the second phase would begin and how long it might take are still unknown.
The Accessible Tour may also be closed during certain times throughout a particular portion of the renovations, Schroer said.
When the renovations are finished, the re-opened tours should be mostly the same as they were before, she said.
“We want to make sure we’re fixing it up but we’re not creating a new experience,” she said.
The length of the renovations is partly because of the difficulties that come from moving equipment underground and using it in the cave, Schroer said.
“Doing construction underground is not easy,” she said. “There’s a lot of logistics that come with getting people and equipment in place underground.”
Throughout the renovation process, park staff will attempt to offer as many alternate tours as possible, Schroer said.
“We’ll do our best to divert tours and give tours in other areas of the cave,” she said.
MCNP wants to start the renovation process shortly before winter because there typically aren’t as many tourists during that season, Schroer said.
“We hope that creates less of an impact on our visitors,” she said.
Edmonson County Tourist Commission Executive Director Rhonda Clemmons said she wasn’t terribly worried about the closure having a large impact on tourism, though she added that she looks forward to the renovations being complete.
“It is what it is but it’ll be great when they’ve got it done,” she said.
Clemmons said she appreciates MCNP’s commitment to making sure other tours will still be offered while a section of the cave is being renovated.
“It’s the price of progress,” she said. “They have to do what they have to do to ensure the safety of the guests.”