Harmony's Niagara Cave marks 80th anniversary with lantern tours
Monday, June 16, 2014 3:17 AM
Many have visited Niagara Cave since its opening in 1934; however, now people have the chance to see it in a different light.
Aaron Bishop prepares to embark on a lantern tour through Niagara Cave. In honor of the cave’s 80th anniversary, special lantern tours are being offered on Saturday evenings through the summer. DAVID PHILLIPS/NEWS-RECORD
This summer, Niagara Cave near Harmony celebrates 80 years of being open to the public. To commemorate this anniversary, owner Mark Bishop is offering a unique way to tour the cave. For the first time, Niagara Cave is giving Saturday evening tours using LED lanterns.
"It's a good way to go 'retro' with the tour," noted Bishop, "providing an opportunity for people who have seen the cave multiple times to see it in a brand new way."
Electric lights have illuminated the walls of the cave ever since it opened its doors, so Bishop is anxious for people to see how the lanterns form different shadows and beams of light among the rock.
LED lantern tours are offered every Saturday of the summer, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
"Everyone gets their own lantern, and even though it's the same tour of the cave, lanterns keep it more mysterious, because you can see only a few feet ahead," Bishop said.
To enhance the 80-year celebration, Niagara Cave now offers mini golf and has also made some updates to the facilities including new siding and more parking.
Though the LED lantern tour is sparking attention in the area, this isn't the first recognition Niagara Cave has received. Recently, CNN named the cave as one of the eight most amazing caves in the country, following recognitions from the Weather Channel, The Travel Channel, Fox News and other travel websites.
"It's neat to be noted as one of the top caves in the country, especially because all of these lists include many different caves," said Bishop, stating there are probably a "couple hundred" show caves in the country.
Many of these caves are similar to Niagara Cave, in that they are "living caves," meaning they are still growing. These caves are rich with exposed fossils, stalagmites and stalactites that can be seen on the tour, but what makes Niagara Cave unique is the nearly 60-foot waterfall that drops to a stream below.
Having seen caves in 25 states and at least three countries, Bishop appreciates that each cave has its own highlight.
Bishop said, "Every cave is special in its own way. I love to see people discover Niagara's distinct qualities."
Though walk-ins are accepted, Bishop urges reservations for groups. To make a reservation, simply call Niagara Cave at (507) 886-6606.
In the past 80 years, three families have served as the gatekeepers to this underground wonderland that quickly became an international destination. Full of geological treasures, Niagara Cave is rated as one of the top 10 commercial caves in the United States. Bishop, along with his wife, Jenny, and their sons, Eric, Ryan and Aaron, are the current owners.
After its discovery by the searchers of the legendary errant pigs, three men further explored the caves. Joe Flynn, Al Cremer and Leo Tekipee lowered themselves into the hole and spent several hours exploring the passageways before they came upon the incredible underground waterfall. After returning to the surface, the three men were anxious to develop the cave so everyone could experience the breathtaking beauty of this newfound treasure.
Niagara Cave held its first public tours through the cave on June 1, 1934. Thousands of people from all over the Midwest came to see the cave and the now-famous underground waterfall named after the renowned New York Niagara Falls. That first year, over 100,000 people toured the cave.
Eventually, Al Cremer bought out his partners and operated the cave with his wife, Rose.
In 1981, Ron and Nancy Vikre took over, his mother having purchased the land lease of the cave at an auction. In 1985, the Vikres purchased the land surrounding the cave, for the first time tying the ownership and the operation of the cave into one entity.
The Bishops purchased the cave in April of 1995 and added restrooms, a picnic pavilion, a playground and a gem stone sluice. Inside the cave system, they have added a new electrical system and repaired and replaced some of the bridges and staircases. More recently, new siding has been added to the cave buildings and the parking lot has been expanded and paved. A miniature golf course now also adds another attraction.