To the Editor,
A cool draft of air, laden with the scent of earth and water, rushes from the mysterious depths of a cave entrance.
Led on this adventure by a knowledgeable guide, whether on foot or by Jeep, the delighted groups of explorers are led back to nature; back in time, to our very roots.
Hearts quicken, and the senses are flooded; overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, and feelings of this very old, yet very primally familiar experience of visiting a modern show cave in the Ozarks.
As many generations of the faithful “cave pilgrims” would attest, once you have experienced a cave, you never forget it.
Missouri’s caves were some of the earliest members of the tourism industry in our state, which is also known as the “Cave State.”
Of the 7,500 caves documented in Missouri, only 17 are open to visitors. In 2019, nearly one million people visited this small group of exquisite show caves in the state.
In the larger picture, an estimated 24 million visitors have toured the caverns of Missouri since the inception of tourist caves in the state. The members of the Missouri Caves Association hope to welcome many more.
During this period of the COVID-19 shutdown, Missouri’s caves, along with many other members of the state’s tourism industry, have been dealt a stunning blow.
Keep in mind, in Missouri, one in 12 jobs is tourism-related. Tourism is one of the largest industries in Southwest Missouri.
Unlike some other businesses in Missouri communities, caves are unable to provide curbside service. This leaves them with zero income.
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This shutdown could not have come at a worse time for members of our industry, who were just starting up for the 2020 season.
Due to the seasonal nature of our businesses and the fact that we have no residual income at this time, the PPP loans are helpful, but still fall short.
Unfortunately, area attractions are in a dire financial position right now.
But here is the potential bright spot, the cloud with a silver lining; as always, Missourians stick together.
The Missouri Division of Tourism estimates that 42% of the state’s tourism comes from residents of the Cave State.
As a happy extension of our fellow Missourians’ visits, they often drag their friends and family members back to their favorite local attractions when THEY come to visit from out-of-state… what a beautiful way for Missourians to support each other!
Members of the Missouri Caves Association want to communicate to our neighbors just HOW MUCH their visits will be appreciated and looked forward to this summer when restrictions are lifted, and when we once again open for cave tours.
We also want them to know that we will be administering and following sanitation and social distancing guidelines, keeping both our employees’ and our guests’ health and safety as our top priority.
Missouri Caves Association