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Friends group formed to raise money for Mammoth Cave

MAMMOTH CAVE — Mammoth Cave National Park has a few new friends.

Former Kentucky Environmental Cabinet Secretary LaJuana Wilcher has helped put together The Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park, a non-profit group with the goal of raising money for park projects.

”Nearly all national parks have a group like this,“ said Wilcher, who spent summers from 1974 to 1977 working at the cave. ”So I agreed to help.“

Park superintendent Patrick Reed approached Wilcher about a year ago with the idea for the group, which has since formed a board of directors and written bylaws.

”He just considered this one of his first priorities after coming here,“ said Vickie Carson, public information officer for the park.

Carson said the park staff hopes to ensure that Kentucky schoolchildren experience Mammoth Cave.

”We want to look at how we can help children in surrounding communities to strengthen their science and technical skills,“ Wilcher said.

The Friends of Mammoth Cave hope to contribute to that effort and promote physical fitness by highlighting existing opportunities at the park and creating new ones.

Brian Dale, the director of the Cave City Convention Center, joined the group because of his city's position as ”the Gateway to Mammoth Cave National Park.“

Cave City motels and tourist activities often attract visitors who also are going to the park.

Dale, communications director for the organization, said it has a list of at least 21 projects it is interested in after talking with park personnel about their needs.

One of those projects is helping restore cave access to people with disabilities. Dale said the elevator that was once used has been deemed unstable for public use for several years, and replacing it would be costly.

Wilcher recalled using the elevator in her days as a guide to take wheelchair-bound guests into the cave.

”Some of them would cry because they didn't think they would ever get to see the inside of a cave,“ she said.

And, Dale said, the group hopes to match the efforts of similar organizations at other national parks. A group in Yellowstone raised $3 million, something that down the road wouldn't be out of reach for this group, he said.

”They help subsidize projects that wouldn't ordinarily be available,“ Dale said.