In my last post, I described the underground boat operation in Bowling Green, Kentucky known as Lost River Cave. I got curious about the boats there, so I called and spoke again with Annie Holt; she’s the Operations Supervisor. I found out that the boats in the Lost River Cave originally took passengers in Mammoth Cave, about 30 miles north.
Mammoth Cave is over 350 miles long, with a number of subterranean rivers running through different areas. The Echo River is one of those rivers and until the early 90’s, there were boat tours given there. The boat tours were discontinued for reasons including environmental impact and cost to operate in a passage which can flood frequently.
The tour boats sat in Mammoth Cave until Nick Crawford, founder of the Friends of Lost River, secured them for the operation in Bowling Green.
The boats are 23 feet long and 4 feet 8 inches wide. They can seat 20 passengers and stand about a foot above the waterline, allowing the tour guide to take his or her passengers under some pretty low-hanging rocks.
Annie Holt told me that when they went to remove the boats from Mammoth Cave, they had to be cut into six-foot sections and carried out, piece-by-piece from 350 feet below the surface. Once out of the cave, the boats were welded back together and launched in the Lost River Cave waterway.
What do they do when the motor fails? They hardly ever have such problems because they maintain things quite well (I would too if I operated boats in a cave). In case there is a motor failure, each boat has a long pole (for punting) and if all else fails, tour guides are willing and able to jump in the water and pull the boat back to dock. The water is about 3 feet deep in most of the cave.
Here's a photo I took during our trip into the cave. This boat was docked and waiting at the mouth of the cave.
Special thanks go out to Rho Lansden, Annie Holt, and Steve O’Nan for providing the above information.