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Secret Cave Rules sign.

Howe Caverns vs. Secret Caverns - Feud Over?

If only New York's Howe Caverns could put lipstick on its historic entrance and plant a big wet one on Secret Caverns. Wait -- haven't we seen that on a billboard?

The long-running war between popular Howe Caverns and lovable bottom-feeder Secret Caverns appears to be over -- at least for now. For decades we monitored this subterranean slugfest between competing tourist attractions within a mile of each other. The acrimony at times culminated in childish taunts and covert vandalism (and, briefly, was even thought linked to a mysterious fire). But the competitive tension also helped nudge Secret Caverns to create the best billboards in America.

Yeti in Secret Caverns.

Peace now reigns over the rolling hills of Schoharie County. On April 26, 2007, Howe Caverns was sold for $3.7 million to two local businessmen, who have vowed to restore the cave to its early 20th century glory, and have pledged that the days of acrimony with Secret Caverns are over.

"I'm tickled to death," said R.J. "Caveman" Mallery, the reclusive and mysterious owner of Secret Caverns. "I don't know if I'll know what to do."

Could this be a trick? A ploy to lull Secret Caverns into a false sense of security? "I'm not lulled easily," said R.J. And if relations do sour again, "So what?" he said, shrugging. "They've hated me before."

R.J., a difficult man to track down, was unusually chatty on the day that we spoke. We asked him about Kurt Piller and Todd DelMarter, Secret Caverns' emeritus tour guides and billboard Michelangelos. R.J. assured us that Kurt and Todd have and will always make themselves available when new signs need to be created, or if brainstorming must be done. " They think about things that normal people just don't," R.J. said, citing as an example the "Novice," "Pro," and "Tour Guide" positioning lines that Kurt and Todd painted on the floor in front of the men's room urinal. "Now there's pee on that floor constantly."

R.J. provided other updates as well. A car drove through "Your Fun King of Spelunking" sign on US 20. The company that makes Secret Caverns' souvenirs has refused to reprint its refrigerator magnets that read, "Send us more tourists; the last ones were delicious." According to R.J., the Environmental Conservation Officer who for years had taken issue with Kurt and Todd in their billboard work has moved to another job, "so now we're pretty much safe to pollute the neighborhood."

Overall, R.J. seems content to take his new, friendly, Howe Caverns neighbors at their word. "They're gonna have their own identity and we're gonna have our clownin' around identity," he said, adding that, "We get people who really want to be here." Which is true, considering that anyone who even wants to buy a ticket for Secret Caverns has to walk up a handicapped ramp that is the tongue of a giant bat.

671 Caverns Rd, Cobleskill, NY
I-88 Exit 22. Turn north onto Hwy 145, then immediately turn right onto Hwy 7. Drive a little over a mile, then turn left onto Caverns Rd. Follow the billboards about 1.5 miles to Secret Caverns on the left.
Daily April-Dec. 11-3, hourly tours (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Tour $18. Cash only.
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