Sheena Jackson has been looking for an activity to do with her sons – Kody, 9, and Caleb, 4 – since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March. So when she heard Lost River Cave tours were about to resume, Jackson decided it was time to finally pay a visit to the facility.
“Since I’ve never been, I wanted to take the boys,” Jackson said. “We quickly decided this was one of the first things we wanted to do out in public. We’ve been looking for something fun to do. They haven’t even been in a store since March, so they were really looking forward to this.”
The Jackson family members were among the first patrons to take a tour cave Monday, which marked the latest phase in the park’s reopening process.
After reopening nature trails on the 72-acre park late last month, Lost River Cave expanded its services Monday, with some limitations: Patrons are now able to take cave tours and the gift shop is again open for business.
“I thought it was fun,” Kody Jackson said. “I’ve been wanting to get out of the house and do like a field trip. This was like that.”
Lost River operations manager Chad Singer said it was a long process to get to Monday’s reopening, with the staff adjusting on the fly to prepare the park to accommodate U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Singer said the staff spent the last 90 days restoring the property – everything from chainsaw work to brush cutting – while learning new skills to be able to do tours.
Among the changes implemented Monday include limiting the number of patrons on cave tours to nine per boat, with eight tours available per day.
Lost River Cave has implemented a front porch check-in process, with tours only available through online reservations. Singer said the tours usually sell out pretty quickly, with the next day’s tours usually sold out by noon.
The gift shop is limited to 10 patrons at a time, with the only restrooms on the property open at the gift shop. The park has also removed most of the trash cans to cut down on litter and potential virus spread.
The boats are cleaned after every tour using a solution that has been provided by CDC and National Cave System.
“Our business is not the same as everybody else’s,” Singer said. “We are an outdoor facility that also depends on some internal things. What we have to do inside the cave is not only do we sanitize … but what do those chemicals do for our cave system?”
Jackson said she is appreciative of all the precautions.
“It’s absolutely great,” Jackson said. “I feel very safe. Having the face masks in the store and in the cave, but having the freedom outside and being able to pull it down and breathe through your nose and all of that was something that we’ve been able to do.
“It gives you a break, because if you go somewhere indoors all the time, you can’t take it off at all. Doing this, you have our walk down – we can pull it down and breathe. In the cave we put it up. Having that break is great and it helps the kids get used to the mask, too.”
The limit on tours has cut down on traffic inside the park. Singer said Lost River Cave usually has about 1,000 people on a Saturday all over the property, but that number will be significantly smaller for the time being.
“We’ve gone from this really big machine of getting people through the cave and being able to see these wonderful resources … hearing our story of what we have done to protect this place,” Singer said. “It’s now down to 18 people per hour (in the cave), and we are really thankful to have that again.
“It’s what we love to do. It’s great to tell those stories.”
Singer said the hope is that patrons will take advantage of other things available throughout the park.
“We’ve had to close off some areas, but we still have 2½ miles of walking trails where you get to see those habitat restorations we have been doing,” Singer said. “We are not just known for the boat tour.”