HORSE CAVE — Preliminary set-up work for the construction of a swinging bridge to be built inside Hidden River Cave in downtown Horse Cave began Thursday.
The bridge will span 100 feet and it has been said it will be the world's largest underground swinging bridge when construction is complete.
“I don't know of any one anywhere in the world like it,” said Dave Foster, director of the American Cave Conservation Association, which oversees the operation of Hidden River Cave. The cave itself is owned by the city of Horse Cave.
The swinging bridge will cross a deep canyon and more than double the cave's current tour. When the project is finished the cave tour will be around a quarter mile in length.
“This has been the hardest thing I've ever had to engineer,” Foster said, adding it has taken almost a year to do it.
He hopes to have the project completed and open to the public this summer.
Plans are to eventually extend the cave's tour to a large room called Sunset Dome with the construction of nearly a quarter of mile of walkways and an additional bridge.
“This is the first big step toward getting there, so I'm pretty confident that we will be open to Sunset Dome either by the end of this year or early next year,” he said.
The finished project won't create a tour that will be as long as what is offered at Mammoth Cave National Park, but Foster said “in terms of size it will rival anything you will see.”
The dimensions of Sunset Dome are 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. The height of the dome is also about 100 feet.
“Sunset Dome, as a room, is larger than anything they show at Mammoth Cave,” he said.
Sunset Dome has not been available to the public since the early 1940s due to a railroad land dispute and pollution.
ACCA has had a goal of reopening Sunset Dome to public tours since it began working with the city of Horse Cave in 1987 to clean up the cave.
The installation of a sewer plant, which was built by the Caveland Environmental Authority, stopped the cave pollution, and enabled ACCA to begin moving forward with plans to expand the cave tour to Sunset Dome.
A $350,575 bid for the project was awarded to Scott and Murphy Construction of Bowling Green in 2017.
Grant funding for the project came from the Dart Foundation, the James Graham Brown Foundation and the Appalaichian Regional Commission. There will be no match from the city of Horse Cave required.
“The American Cave Conservation Association is doing some match; a little bit of a match, but most of (it) is covered by grant money,” Foster said.
To complement what ACCA is doing in the cave with the expansion of its tour, the city of Horse Cave is applying for a Recreational Trails Program Grant in the amount of $116,550 through the Kentucky Department for Local Government to fund the construction of a walking trail on the surface.
The grant will require a match from the city of 20 percent, and Horse Cave City Clerk Ken Russell explained the match could be either cash or an in-kind contribution that could involve volunteer work.
The trail will be constructed on the west side of the CSX railroad over Sunset Dome in downtown Horse Cave.
With the trail, the city will be highlighting three things — Hidden River Cave, Sunset Dome and the relationship the railroad company to Horse Cave, Russell said.
“This will be a half mile walking trail,” he said, adding that its width will be five feet.
Plans also call for the trail to feature two colors of concrete, brown and gray, so that Hidden River Cave is mapped on the surface with the trail.
“Any time you see brown, you are over the cave,” Russell said.