Holiday Candlelight Tours

Visitors to the Lewis and Clark Caverns take a candlelight tour of the caves.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park has made plans for a few new features and is asking for public input on the proposals.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has completed environmental assessments for a new campground for cyclists, a shade shelter and a building for concessions. The assessments found that the projects would have minimal impact because they’re small and will be on previously disturbed land.

The park collaborated with the Montana State Parks Foundation to pay for the projects. Coby Gierke, director of the foundation, said now is the time for people to raise concerns about the projects if they have any.

Comments can be submitted online at stateparks.mt.gov through Sept. 13. Detailed descriptions of each project can be found on the same webpage.

The American Academy of Dermatology, the American Association of Retired Persons, MT Tourism Destination Development, Jefferson Valley Community Fund, Montana Gift Corral and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund have committed to giving money to the projects.

The LWCF is providing the largest chunk of money at $60,000, and the MT Tourism Destination Development comes in second at $42,500. Gierke said the park will also use money left over from a lighting and electrical project at the caverns last year.

Rhea Armstrong, manager of Lewis and Clark Caverns, said the upgrades are needed due to the steady rise in visitation.

“There have only been a few nights this summer that the campground has not been full,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said more people are biking to the caverns now than in the past, which inspired the proposed campground.

According to the environmental assessment, the new campground will be set aside specifically for cyclists and will include features to accommodate bikes. The campground fees will be cheaper than standard fees because the campsites won’t need to include space for cars. Spots will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The park has a 40-site campground now.

Another proposal is to build a shade shelter adjacent to the visitor center. The park created a tour in 2017 called the Paradise Tour, and it’s half the time and distance of a normal tour. It’s meant to accommodate visitors who are physically challenged. According to the assessment, the shade shelter is needed for vulnerable visitors, like the elderly, who take the Paradise Tour.

“If you can imagine sending your grandfather down there on a July day, you know you need shade,” Armstrong said.

The shelter will be built on a concrete slab and will include a picnic table.

The third proposed project is a renovation of the building that houses concessions at the park. The last time it was updated was in 1996. Right now, the concessionaire can only sell cold food. The plan is to expand the kitchen, add a stove and undertake electrical upgrades.

The Montana State Historic Office has determined that the park’s proposal will not interfere with the historic building’s integrity. The Montana Gift Corral occupies the building and will contribute $5,000 to the renovation.

Gierke said the foundation has specific criteria each project must meet to qualify for monetary support. He said the criteria are used to ensure a proposed project will enhance a visitor’s experience.

“We opt for projects that are really user-based,” Gierke said.

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