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Carter Caves offers Winter Adventure Weekend

January 19, 2012

By Carrie Stambaugh

OLIVE HILL – Spend the night inside a cave, descend past a soaring natural sandstone arch, squeeze through corrugated cardboard, or learn how to identify trees without their leaves.

These are just a few of the more than 100 activities and workshops being offered at this year’s Winter Adventure Weekend at Carter Caves State Resort Park near Olive Hill. The weekend is set for Jan. 27-29, 2012.

Courtesy of Carter Caves State Park. Hikers explore Carter Caves during last year's Winter Adventure Weekend.

The event was named the top winter event of the year by the Kentucky Recreation and Parks Society at their annual conference in October, where the park was also named Park of the Year. Now in its third year, the Winter Adventure Weekend was created to take the place of the park’s extremely popular winter Crawl-A-Thon. The beloved and long-running event was centered on exploring the park’s namesake underground wonders but was cancelled indefinitely in 2008 due to the risk of spreading deadly White-Nosed Syndrome to the local bat population.

Park Naturalist Coy Ainsley said the growth of the Winter Adventure Weekend has surprised everybody.  “This event is crazy. It is unbelievable,” he said, adding the enthusiasm for offering park visitors an enormous range of outdoor activities in the middle of the winter has only continued to grow from year to year.  There are 30 more events this year than last year, he said.

A complete list of all 105 trips and workshop offerings for each day, along with registration information and other details is available at www.winteradventureweekend.com.

All participants must register online at this site. Registration opened Dec. 19, and some events are already full or have limited spots remaining.  A non-refundable registration fee is required. For adults, age 13 and older, it is $25. For children ages 6 to 12 it is $20. All participants must be at least 6-years-old but some trips have additional age requirements.

Each trip has a designated level based on the difficulty and skills required. The higher the level, the more skills and special equipment are needed. Guests will be responsible for appropriate dress, water, snacks and other items needed to participate in a trip, workshop or outing.

Accommodations at the Park’s Lewis Caveland Lodge are booked but camping sites are available in both the parks regular and equine campground. Rooms are also available at a number of local lodges and hotels, according to park staff.

Ainsley said the Adventure Weekend utilizes the same great group of volunteer staff who put the Crawl-a-thon together for more than 25 years. He said at first there was hesitation about whether a different event should even be held. But, the response from the volunteer staff was clear.

“They were wanting to provide outdoor recreation activities for the public,” said Ainsley. “That is what kept us alive. We have a good core of volunteers that stuck with us. They are not only great cavers but they do other types of outdoor recreation in their lives and they were able to provide other types of activities for that weekend,” he said.

“That is what always makes the weekend spectacular, all these staff members,” said Ainsley. He noted most of them are highly experienced outdoor recreationalists who have traveled around the world to participate in their chosen activities. They come to Carter Caves each winter to share their skills so others can share in their passion.  “They are right here next to you guiding you through an activity,” Ainsley said.

Courtesy of Carter Caves State Park. Park employees test the new highline that gives visitors a bird's eye view of Smoky Bridge.

He said the park has also teamed up with a number of other local outdoor recreation groups including the Ashland Cycling Enthusiasts to offer activities. ACE who will be sponsoring two new mountain biking events as well as hosting a presentation on Cyclocross, a form of bicycle racing.

The Friends of Carter Caves non-profit group has also donated funds this year to install a highline ride at Smokey Arch. The 200-foot line descends 40 feet while traveling through the gorge of the park’s largest arch, said Ainsley. A highline is similar to a zip line but has a controlled descent. The highline was a popular event in 2010 but was absent last year. The donation of more than $1,000 of equipment by the Friends of Carter Caves will help ensure the highline has a permanent place at each year’s Winter Adventure Weekend, said Ainsley.

Other new events this year include: six adventure presentations that take visitors from the Buckeye Trail in Ohio to Machu Picchu in Peru, a backpacking course for women, an archeology walk, geocaching, recreational tree climbing, rappelling and more.

Ainsley said the park is expecting upward of 300 participants this year. Last year more than 220 individuals registered for the weekend, which was up from 142 in 2010. At its peak, Crawl-a-Thon was attracting close to 800 visitors over the weekend, said Ainsley. The park hopes eventually the Winter Adventure Weekend will do the same.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article also appeared in the Greater Ashland Beacon.

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