By GINA KINSLOW
Glasgow Daily Times
MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK —
Many came out to Mammoth Cave National Park Tuesday afternoon to commemorate the completion of the visitor center renovation and exhibit installation with an open house, including local, state and federal dignitaries.
“It’s a day to celebrate,” said Bruce Powell, deputy superintendent of the national park. “It’s been a long day coming and the staff is ecstatic that is has finally come.”
The renovation of the visitor center was done in phases.
Phase I involved the demolition of an administration building in 2007 to make room for a spacious lobby, information desk, ticket sales area and restrooms.
The first phase, which was completed in 2010, cost around $6 million, which came from the fees collected in the park through the sale of cave tour tickets and campground fees.
The second phase involved taking the building down to a shell and rebuilding it to include exhibits, office space and book sales.
Funding for the second phase, around $10.4 million, was provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Mike Adams, chief of interpretation at Mammoth Cave who oversaw development and installation of the exhibits, called the completion of the renovation project and exhibit installation “a dream come true.”
“It’s everything I had hoped for and more,” he said. “We had a great team. Lots of people have worked on this and I just couldn’t be happier with the results.”
The primary design of the exhibit is to tell the stories that are most difficulty for cave guides to tell, such as cave life.
“We talk about eyeless fish and all these things, but in reality people will not have a chance to see those,” Adams said. “So the exhibits are a chance to show people those.”
Another example he gave is cave survey, which shows just how large Mammoth Cave really is.
Adams pointed out that visitors to the national park only see about 10 miles of the cave, but 390 miles of it have actually been surveyed.
The exhibit also provides visitors with information about the American Indian artifacts that have been found inside the cave.
“We don’t get to show those to people in the cave very much, so this is an opportunity to bring those out and let people see them,” he said.
Steve Kovar, the national park’s facility manger, provided oversight for the project.
In a press release issued by the national park, he said, “This has been a very green rehabilitation. Practically everything from the old building — bricks, concrete, wiring — was recycled, and the foot print of the new visitor center is virtually the same as the old one. The result is amazing.”
Joy Lyons, chief of program services at the national park, referred to the open house event being a bit like “Christmas in November.”
“This is wonderful. It really is. This has been a long time coming and I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team in this park and other people in the National Park Service who helped [with this project], because this was a big deal to make this a reality,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely been worthwhile.”
Pat Reed, former superintendent of the national park who retired in June, returned to Mammoth Cave for the open house.
“It’s a day that has long been awaited,” he said. “Planning has been going on for this new visitor center since the early 1990s. I got back yesterday and I’m just really delighted with the way the exhibits were finished off and the building. I just think this is a wonderful thing for Mammoth Cave National Park and the whole community.”
Cave City mayor Dwayne Hatcher also attended the open house.
Hatcher, along with other members of the Cave City Chamber of Commerce, recently got their own private tour of the new visitor center and exhibits during a chamber meeting.
“It is awesome. This new exhibit is just unreal. It really is,” he said.
The city of Cave City, as well as other surrounding communities, have the opportunity to benefit from the completion of the visitor center renovation and installation of the new exhibits.
“Any improvement out here just enhances the opportunity for all the surrounding communities to bring in more people and so financially it’s a tremendous boost,” he said.
Sarah Craighead, the national park’s new superintendent, spoke during a short ceremony commemorating the event, along with Gordon Wissinger, acting regional director of the National Park Service’s Southeast Region; Reed; and George Minnucci, president of Eastern National, the non-profit organization that oversees the gift shop and book store at the national park.
“I’ve probably been to maybe 300 national parks. I’ve been to a lot of grand openings, a lot of visitor centers. This one is really near the top. From the outward appearances to the interior of the exhibits, it really tells a story the people can enjoy,” he said. “It is well worth anybody seeing.”