"Rewilded" Cave Shocks Nature-Deprived in Ohio

The Seven Caves commercial tourist attraction in Bainbridge, Ohio, is no more, and will reopen to the public on May 5 as the Seven Caves Nature Preserve, after years of effort by Larry and Nancy Henry, a husband-and-wife team of former Ohio state parks officials.

The Seven Caves were, as Larry described it, "a fifties-type attraction" with a self-guided tour. Visitors would walk the trails, stop in at the seven small caves, and push buttons to illuminate formations that had been given evocative names. Larry citied "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" as an example -- well, we can see why this attraction failed. Had the formation been labeled "Bloated Fuzzy Rib Taco," things might have turned out differently.

Since last autumn Larry and Nancy and a group of volunteers have been ripping out concrete walkways, wires, signs, and lights from the caves in an effort to "rewild" them. Only one of the seven -- The Cave of the Springs -- the largest, will remain open to tourists, and only as part of guided two-hour nature walks.

With the lights gone, the cave will only be lit by beeswax candle lanterns carried by the visitors themselves -- and therein lies a problem for Larry and Nancy. They've already seen what Larry calls "nature deficit disorder" among their visitors, people who are so out-of-touch with the natural world that they freak when they go into the cave. "People are scared that there are lions or tigers or bears in there," Larry says, "or crocodiles in the creek." Larry has also observed that, "A lot of these young kids, they're pumped full of sugar. They come out of the car completely berserk."

Still, Larry and Nancy have high hopes for their low-tech approach. I-pods, Blackberries, Game Boys, and cell phones will be forbidden here -- not expressly, but, as Larry explains, because visitors will "get an energy thing, a vibrational thing" and leave their gadgets behind.

Larry, Nancy, and their volunteers are also transforming the former gift shop into a nature interpretive center, and have taken away all of the garbage cans. "You have to be careful not to enable people to be dysfunctional," Larry says.

Roughly 5 miles west of Bainbridge. The caves are still on property, but the attraction has entirely changed to be nature-focused as the Appalachian Forest Museum - www.highlandssanctuary.org.
No longer a commercial cave, now a nature preserve.

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