Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

April 3, 2013

Carter Caves State Resort Park: Adventure-perfect for the future

Part 4 of a series

By Keith Kappes - Publisher
Journal-Times

April 3, 2013 —     As Kentucky’s state parks continue to evolve as adventure tourism destinations to meet the competition, taxpayers won’t have to spend much on infrastructure at Carter Caves State Resort Park.

    Building exciting venues out of steel and concrete won’t be necessary.

    Mother Nature already has provided great locations amid the 2,000 acres of Carter Caves for white water paddle sports, zip-lining, sheer rock faces for rappelling or climbing, virtually uncharted caverns for wild caving, and 31 miles of trails – 26 for hiking and biking and 15 for horseback riding.

The move toward more hands-on activities has been underway here for years.

    Experiments with zip-lines, for example, have been so successful that the park system is taking bids on building and operating zip-line attractions at Carter Caves and four other state parks. With luck, they could be operational before the summer season ends.

    Once built and opened, the zip-line will be the second park concession operated by a private company. Horse-back riding was the first.

    The park’s abundance of natural beauty and rugged terrain could work to its advantage at a time when all of state government, the park system included, has little money to spend on capital projects.

    State Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker is among those who believe Carter Caves has a bright future in a park system already considered the best in the nation.

    “Carter Caves State Resort Park, under the very capable leadership of Chris Perry, continues to expand its appeal to outdoor enthusiasts of all ages,” Walker said recently. “We hope to build on this trend in the future and continue to explore public/private partnerships that can bring in new activities for the public.”

    Her optimism is echoed by Perry, barely a year on the job as park manager but actually a veteran of 20 years as a park employee who literally worked his way to the top.

    “The park system focuses its marketing efforts on out-of-town and out-of-state visitors for obvious reasons and we work hard to provide good Kentucky hospitality,” Perry said. “But we at Carter Caves also are trying to increase local visitation because so many people in this county and surrounding area know very little about what we have to offer and how much the park has changed over the years.”

    Perry is convinced that adventure tourism is the wave of the future and he intends for Carter Caves to ride that crest.

    “Gone are the days when we virtually could close down during cool or cold weather,” he added. “Late fall and winter events are becoming more and more popular and that extra revenue is making the park stronger financially and helping us become more of a year-around economic asset for this area.”

    Adventure tourists are climbing over, under, around and through park property under the watchful eyes of Park Naturalist Coy Ainsley, whose face lights up under his full beard when he talks about exciting things to do at Carter Caves.

    Ainsley admits he was disappointed when the hugely successful “Crawlathon” has to be abandoned as part of the sincere but eventually futile effort to save endangered bats hibernating in several of the park’s famous caves.

    “We’re looking for more opportunities to offer additional cave tours and experiences for our guests,” Ainsley said. “We hope to be able to work toward offering a wild cave tour experience in future years.” 

    He has ideas about other fall and winter activities that would appeal to outdoor enthusiasts who know how to dress for cold weather and who relish being physically challenged by new adventures in the wilderness above and below Carter Caves.

    “We’re currently working on dedicating an area for rock climbers and rappellers to utilize,” Ainsley added. “This would be a designated area that provides a few hundred feet of sandstone cliff face for experienced climbers and rappellers to enjoy.”

    (Next: How more than 200 volunteers make a difference at Carter Caves.)

    Keith Kappes can be reached at kkappes@journal-times.com or by telephone at 800-247-6142.