Close to 900 people visited the Cody Caves, north of Ainsworth, in 2013 after they reopened to the public.

Close to 900 people visited the Cody Caves, north of Ainsworth, in 2013 after they reopened to the public.

Cody Caves drew 900 in 2013

Nearly 900 spelunkers explored the Cody Caves last year after they reopened to the public following a three-year closure.

Nearly 900 spelunkers explored the Cody Caves last year after they reopened to the public following a three-year closure.

Lee Hollis, who has a 10-year permit from BC Parks to run a commercial guiding service in the provincial park north of Ainsworth, said attendance was lower than he’d hoped, but he’s “encouraged to go into season two” and is aiming for 1,200 to 1,500 visitors. “All in all a very positive start,” he said.

Hollis changed the model for tours from hourly to telephone reservation to avoid problems a previous operator ran into. BC Parks couldn’t find another operator until last year.

Between mid-June and mid-October, 667 people participated in one-hour family tours, 163 people did 3½-hour explorer tours, and 66 went on 5½-hour adventure tours, for a total of 896 visitors through the caves.

They came from far and wide, including the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Australia, plus Calgary, Vancouver, and Spokane. There were also a number of local school and college tours, specially tailored for educational purposes.

Although Hollis originally planned winter tours as well, he says they didn’t happen because they required more preparation than he first thought. However, he expects to begin offering them this year to “the very active and adventurous” — with the option of getting in by helicopter or snowshoe.

The business created part-time employment for three guides and one office support person last year, which will increase to four guides and two people in the office this year. Hollis said they had to turn down bookings several times because they couldn’t maintain their preferred guide-to-client ratio.

This year’s tours will begin once the snow has sufficiently melted. “I was up at the cave two weeks ago and there was still ten feet of snow at the cave entrance, but I expect by mid-to-late May we should be able to drive most of the way,” Hollis said.

To get the word out, he’s been advertising, working with local businesses and other caving operators, and has a website at codycavetours.com.

He also sent questionnaires to the first 250 people who went through the caves last year. Feedback was positive, so the actual tours will see no major changes, but they are working with the Canadian Cave Conservancy to get a bat-friendly gate installed at the cave’s entrance. They’re also working with BC Parks to build a new 1.3 km interpretive trail through the park which would showcase its karst and limestone features as well as the cascades and canyons of Krao Creek. It would actually cross over the cave at various points.

Hollis adds the road to the caves’ parking lot was in “the best condition anyone can recall” last year, and as the snow melts, he hopes to have it graded again.

Tours can be booked by calling 250-359-CAVE (2283). Prices and other information is available on the website.

Nelson Star