Kentucky Cultural District: Small city makes big impression with self-guided tour
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Horse Cave, the smallest of the five certified Kentucky Cultural Districts, has received recognition recently for its Hidden River Cave walking tour from various state and government-related entities.
The city was acknowledged for its unique approach, innovation and dedication to leveraging cultural assets in creating the self-guided tour that allows visitors with smartphones to explore the city at their own pace. Horse Cave was recognized with the Kentucky League of Cities Enterprise Cities Award, the Kentucky Historical Society’s Education Award, and the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism’s “There’s Only One” designation.
“When we decided we wanted to develop a walking tour in Horse Cave, we knew we wanted it to be unlike any other in the nation,” said Sandra T. Wilson, executive director of the Horse Cave/Hart County Tourist Commission. “Naturally, our city is a little different from all others in Kentucky. It has the unique distinction of being built on top of a cave. Creating tours for above- and below-ground was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”
The Horse Cave walking tour features signage with scannable QR codes, in addition to photos, facts about Hidden River Cave’s ecosystem, history, and the cultural heritage of the city. Each of the 20 stops on the tour includes a link to a webpage on www.horsecavestories.com, which provides additional information, oral histories and photographs.
“What we have learned since Horse Cave was designated a Kentucky Cultural District is that the size of a city has no bearing on the creative and cultural discoveries that are contained within its borders,” said Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, which oversees the cultural district program. “The work being done by the Horse Cave Cultural District is a model for other small towns in Kentucky that are willing to work hard to leverage the assets in their own cities.”
The mouth of Hidden River Cave is in the center of town and contributes heavily to the region’s colorful history and heritage. Phase one of the tour leads visitors through Horse Cave’s Downtown Historic District to experience sites like the Kentucky Repertory Theatre and the American Cave Museum.
Phase two takes visitors underground to experience the city’s subterranean history. The unusually large mouth of Hidden River Cave drew both Native Americans and early settlers to the town with its easily accessible water supply.
During the heyday of cave tours in the early to mid-1900s, Hidden River Cave drew visitors from all over the world. But decades of neglecting the fragile ecosystem (known as a karst ecosystem) led to severe pollution. A karst ecosystem is one with caves, sinkholes, springs, and sinking streams and is characterized by underwater drainage. The cave was closed to visitors in the 1940s. Residents eventually partnered with the American Cave Conservation Association to clean up and protect the Hidden River Cave drainage system, restoring the cave’s natural beauty and ecosystem. Hidden River Cave was reopened to visitors in 1993. Along with the American Cave Museum, located above Hidden River Cave’s entrance, the smartphone walking tour provides insight into how caves form and karst ecosystems function.
Horse Cave is located off Interstate 65 in south-central Kentucky in the heart of cave country. The entrance to the cave, located on Main Street in downtown, is the largest natural opening in the entire cave area.
The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, creates opportunities for Kentuckians to value, participate in and benefit from the arts. Kentucky Arts Council funding is provided by the Kentucky General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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