A Good Report for Cathedral Caverns by Anthony Campbell, The Advertiser Gleam

A Good Report for Cathedral Caverns by Anthony Campbell, The Advertiser Gleam

Things seem to be going well for Cathedral Caverns State Park near Grant. Park Supt. Chris Bentley gave an update on the park when the Grant Chamber of Commerce held its early bird breakfast there last week. It was the Chamber’s first in-person event since the pandemic began.

“It’s good to be back to some normalcy,” Chamber president Cody Gore said. He introduced Bentley to the group and said breakfast at the cave is always one of the main events the Chamber looks forward to every year.

Bentley opened his remarks by sharing a bit about himself.

“I oversee the operation of both Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns,” he said. “I graduated from UNA in 2008, then worked at Lake Lurleen State Park for 2 years followed by 5 years at Gulf State Park.

"From there, I transferred to Guntersville as assistant superintendent before coming to Cathedral. I was a park ranger but I had to give up my law enforcement commission to become superintendent.”

He said tourism continues to grow in Marshall County with the work of Tourism & Sports and the new Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheatre. And it is growing at Cathedral Caverns as well.

He said the State Parks have 5 million visitors in a typical year.

Last year, because the parks were open when a lot of other things were closed, that number increased to 6.2 million.

“The parks are popular,” Bentley said.

Cathedral Caverns draws 55,000 to 60,000 visitors in a normal year.

But the pandemic last year put a dent in their business, particularly with school tours, a big part of their business.

They were still able to make a profit, even though cave tours were shut down for 2 months last year.

“The school business is coming back,” Bentley said. “We just had the 5th and 6th grades from Albertville. Usually, it’s just the 5th grade, but the 6th grade came because they didn’t get to come last year as 5th graders.”

Bentley reported that some special running events held at the cave, a 5K and a 15K trail run, typically draw 800 to 1,000 runners. Both races are different from an ordinary race as part of the course goes through the cave.

A half-marathon held earlier this year drew 700 runners.

“Only 268 of them were from Alabama, so you know the event generated some room nights in our hotels,” Bentley said. “We worked with Jason Windsor from the sheriff’s office and both the Marshall and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office provided support for the race.”

The Cathedral Caverns campground is currently being renovated and will include camping cabins. The first couple of those cabins should be in place by July 4.

“The biggest project we are doing is a brand new campground that you probably saw as you drove in,” Bentley said. “It will have 25 full-service campsites along with a dump station. It was supposed to have been finished March 15, but they have had terrible working weather and they encountered a lot of rock.”

He said having more campsite space will open Cathedral Caverns to hosting more events like barbecue competitions.

Bentley shared that breakfast had been catered by Triple L BBQ in Grant.

“We always try to do business locally whenever we can,” he said. “We visit Carnes Ace Hardware a lot.”

Other Business

- Commissioner Rick Watson said Marshall County is getting several million dollars worth of pandemic relief money. He wants to spend his portion on improving water lines around the district, especially upgrading small lines to 6-inch lines that can support fire hydrants.

- Watson also said a wooden bridge on Thomas Lane near the cave will soon be replaced with a precast concrete bridge. Bids should go out soon.

- Rep. Wes Kitchens reported that a bill passed for a bond issue for parks. It could result in more funding for Cathedral Caverns, Lake Guntersville and Bucks Pocket State Parks, he said.

- Karen Denise of Hospice said crosses are present on the lawn at Shepherd’s Cove in memory of veterans who’d passed while under hospice care in the past year. One of the crosses is for former Grant councilman Charlie Ayers, she said. The Boaz VFW placed the crosses.

- Grant mayor Larry Walker told the group the town acquired a deed to the private drive that serves the back of the post office. Everyone thought it was a public street, he said. Now the city and the county can improve the road and get it up to street standards.https://www.advertisergleam.co...

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