Volunteers Greet Visitors at Mammoth Cave National Park During Government Shutdown
The partial government shutdown has suspended visitor services at national parks, but the message has not reached many people arriving at one of Kentucky’s most popular sites.
A volunteer group is greeting visitors who continue to show up at Mammoth Cave National Park, including some from other countries.
Friends of Mammoth Cave set up a temporary information table at the national park after some members of the volunteer organization saw many people surprised to find locked doors at the visitors center. Volunteers are offering brochures on area attractions provided by tourism groups from Barren, Edmonson and Hart counties, where the national park is located.
“We didn’t keep a tally sheet of the number of visitors, but we estimate it was close to 200 on Saturday and at least about 100 Sunday," Friends of Mammoth Cave Executive Director Helen Siewers said about the weekend of Jan. 5 and 6. "Some of them were passing through and some were people from the area who would have come to the park on a sunny winter weekend anyway.”
Siewers said some have been international visitors who had reserved cave tours and didn’t realize the government shutdown affected their plans. She said volunteers are giving tourists information on how to contact the park for a refund after the shutdown ends. Volunteers say some of the languages spoken by by tourists are Arabic, Chinese, French and Spanish.
One of the volunteers at Mammoth Cave National Park on Monday, Jan. 7 was David Foster, executive director of the American Cave Conservation Association, which operates the nonprofit Hidden River Cave in Hart County. Foster said about 20 people showed up in one hour, some who bought cave tours online.
"Well, it was kind of sad. There were people from China that were here," said Foster. "There was a big family from South Korea that had bought the $80, I think, National Park pass. They were here for a several week tour of the country wanting to see different national parks and weren’t able to see them.”
Foster says the closing of Mammoth Cave has led to a temporary increase in visitors to other, privately-run cave attractions in the region. But he says if too many people begin to view national parks as undependable, it will hurt the region’s tourism in the long-run.