by Max Brantley
FIFTY-SIX, Ark. – A routine geologic inspection has revealed a potential safety hazard in at least two areas at Blanchard Springs Caverns, prompting Ozark-St. Francis National Forests officials to temporarily reroute a popular tour route. Tours will continue along the rerouted path while experts determine if action is needed.
“We routinely monitor and inspect the Caverns, particularly public areas where our visitors and employees are likely to be,” said District Ranger Jim McCoy. “If there’s ever a question of safety, we err on the side of caution. The safety of our visitors and employees is always going to be priority one.”
The most recent routine inspection revealed that two areas within the cave system were flagged for potentially loose ceiling rock overhead. One area was along the natural route of the wild cave tour. Managers were able to make a minor change to the route to solve the problem. If deemed a hazard, the second area could require removal of a large section of rock from a manmade tunnel before normal tour routes will be reinstated.
“The ceiling rock in question is in the tunnel where visitors exit the elevator to enter the cave,” said McCoy. “This is the way we typically enter into the cave, but there is no way to use the elevator to descend into the cave without being exposed to this hazard. Our option for now is just to start and end at the same point.”
Visitors will be bussed from the Visitor Center to the exit to begin the tour, avoiding the elevator area. Cave officials have developed a temporary route that is about the same length as the Dripstone Trail and will retain the educational and inspirational characteristics of the living Cavern. Two experienced guides will accompany each tour. Cave guides are equipped with lights and are highly familiar with the entrances and exits throughout the cave system.
“Mining experts will be in the cave this week to look at the issues we’ve identified and help us develop a plan of action, if one is needed,” he said. “It’s important to us to be able to get these tours back to normal, but we won’t compromise safety.”
The remainder of the annual inspection report found Blanchard Springs Caverns to be incredibly stable. For more information on Blanchard Springs Caverns, log on to http://fs.usda.gov/osfnf or call (870) 757-2211.