CAVE CITY — Scott and Sara Sendtko made the decision to move to southcentral Kentucky from Michigan to pursue a business interest about eight years ago.
Scott Sendtko is a fabricator by trade.
“We build machine bases for the automotive industry, so I've always worked in steel,” he said.
He and his family were familiar with the area, having visited several times while on vacation.
“We like caves. We have taken the kids on cave tours all across America,” he said.
One cave they have frequently visited was the Crystal Onyx Cave just outside Cave City off Ky. 90.
“We came to this one probably a half dozen times,” he said. “This was by far our favorite cave.”
The Sendtkos were in the area in 2010 looking for land to purchase so they could relocate to southcentral Kentucky when they drove past a billboard advertising the cave.
“I saw that cave closed sign on that billboard and I couldn't believe it,” Sendtko said. “The most beautiful cave in Kentucky is closed.”
Scott Sendtko began asking people about the cave and finally learned it was owned by Bluegrass Cellular.
The cell phone company purchased the cave in 2009.
“They have their towers on top of the hill,” he said.
Once he found out who the current owner was, he approached the cell phone company about buying it and the company agreed to sell it.
“It took abut nine to 10 months to get it all squared away and I ended up buying it. It was never for sale. I just had to ask,” he said.
In 2014, the Sendtkos began renovating the cave.
“It took me about four years working on this cave. About 90 percent of the work I did myself. Family came to help me on holidays and weekends and any time I got my son here I put him to work,” he said.
The Sendtkos replaced hand railings, stairs and bridges inside the cave. They also lowered and re-graveled the trails and installed new LED lighting.
He also spent some time researching the history of the cave.
“This cave was open to public tours in 1965 and it exchanged five different times during that period. Even a moderately profitable business doesn't do that; change hands that many times,” he said.
That indicated to him that reopening the cave would be a bit of a struggle financially, but despite that the Sendtkos opened the cave to the public on Memorial Day Weekend.
“I did it for the love of the cave and not so much for the love of the money,” he said. “... But you know it's just beautiful land and a beautiful cave. Glad I was able to get it and use my talent for good.”
Crystal Onyx Cave features three passages. It also has entrance, as well as an exit.
“Each passage is about 400 feet. We could offer as many as four different tours once we get things rolling. Right now, we've got basically one tour and the lower level,” he said.
The couple is still trying to work out the details on how best to offer more tours.
“The biggest thing is there are formations everywhere,” Sendtko said. “Some of the other caves are unique in their own right, but they don't have the mass of formations that I have.”
Sendtko's sisters, Gwen Kern, of Saginaw, Michigan, and Cheryl Siedelmann of southern Idaho, work as tour guides.
Kern loves caves almost as much as her brother.
“Scott brought us down here about 15 years ago. We were here on vacation and he said, 'Come see my favorite, most beautiful cave,' and he brought us here,” she said.
The support the Sendtkos said they have received from the private sector in the community has been wonderful, he said.
“We're getting so many references from like the Old Country Store, the resorts, the campgrounds are actually putting our brochures in packets they give everybody,” he said. “I can't mention all the small businesses that have been referring people to us and we have been getting a lot so the private sector support is great.”
Tourists have told the Sendtkos that Crystal Onyx Cave is comparable to Carlsbad Caverns.
“To get compliments like that and you know I've had people to come up and shake my hand when they see the work I've done and the effort I've put into it,” he said. “They just realize that it was a labor of love. That to me is by far means more than anything; to have people appreciate all the effort I've put into it.”
Greg Davis, interim executive director of the Cave City Tourist and Convention Commission, has not been to the cave in several years, but is excited to know that someone has reopened it.
“It's an additional attraction. I think Mammoth Cave, especially this time of year, many times is sold out, so it's great that we have another cave reopening,” he said.