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For summer cooling, visit Blanchard Springs Caverns

Posted: July 18, 2014 - 5:49pm
PARKS AND TOURISM PHOTO   Walkways with handrails help visitors to Blanchard Springs Caverns with its huge underground formations.
PARKS AND TOURISM PHOTO Walkways with handrails help visitors to Blanchard Springs Caverns with its huge underground formations.

For a pleasant change from Arkansas summer heat, some time spent underground may be what you need.

Visit a cave.

Although concern over a bat disease has closed most caves on state and federal land, several privately operated caves where no disease has been detected are open. So is the biggie — the national treasure — Blanchard Springs Caverns.

All these Arkansas caves are in the Ozarks region, the north and northwest part of the state. Blanchard Springs is a dozen or so miles north and a bit west of Mountain View.

Along with the caverns, which are huge, visitors can choose from a menu of other options — creek swimming, camping, trout fishing, picnicking, hiking.

The caverns are the main attraction. Many people rate Blanchard Springs right up there with the better known Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns. And as a tourist magnet, Blanchard Springs is a youngster, opened for visitation just more than 40 years ago.

Should your notion of visiting a cave include getting down on your belly and crawling in places, forget this with Blanchard Springs. It is for anyone and most everyone — kids, adults, seniors, and even to some extent for mobility, impaired folks. You get from the surface to the caverns themselves by elevator.

Blanchard Springs is a living, also called active, cave. Its formations are building and changing as they have done for eons. Bats use it, but the dreaded white nose syndrome disease has not been found there.

The main attraction is the formations. Huge and colorful stalactites, stalagmites and columns are formed from water running and seeping over rock. The resulting material is called calcite.

Tours are guided. Pay attention to the knowledgeable leaders, and your experience is enriched. Walking is easy almost all the way with few steps to negotiate. Handrails help. The extensive lighting system is a major asset for visitors to the caverns.

Temperature in the caverns is 58 degrees year round.

Blanchard Springs is the only cave operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Development for public use took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the opening amid fanfare in 1973.

Before then, the caverns were found by area residents in the 1930s, then explored in 1955 by a fellow named Roger Bottoms. He also found a skeleton of a Native American that was hundreds of years old at the bottom of the shaft leading into the cave. Batesville residents Hail Bryant and Hugh Schell made multiple visits to the caverns before the Forest Service took on the project of developing the place for public use.

Costs for a Blanchard Springs Cavern visit are modest. Adults pay $10 and children $5 for either the Dripstone or the Discovery tour. Golden Age Passport holders pay $5. Disabled persons pay half price. Free tours are given to former prisoners of war and Purple Heart recipients. Season passes are $25 for adults, $12.50 for children. Pets are not allowed except for seeing eye or service dogs.

Just outside the caverns is Mirror Lake, a small body of water stocked with trout and open for rod and reel fishing. Arkansas trout stamps are required of anyone wanting to keep what he or she catches.

The caverns are open daily year-round although the tour schedules are reduced in winter. For more information, phone 888-757-2246. To make reservations, go online to www.recreation.gov.

(Outdoor writer Joe Mosby can be reached by email at jhmosby@cyberback.com.)

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