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Press Release

New Cathedral Caverns Welcome Center Opens

December 04, 2003

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the opening of the new Welcome Center at Cathedral Caverns State Park, Tuesday, December 2. The center, which took 18 months to complete, is located at the entrance of the cave. It is a rustic log and stone building with a large pavilion where visitors can wait for their turn to tour the cave. The open-air structure houses a ticket office, restrooms, snack bar/souvenir shop, park manager’s office, and an open classroom-type area with benches, chairs and tables. The ceiling has reflective heating panels for use in cold weather.

“This personifies what is so great about Alabama,” said Governor Bob Riley, who took part in the ceremony. “I think we offer something here that no other southeastern state can match. This is going to attract a tremendous amount of tourism dollars.”

Cathedral Caverns is hidden beneath Gunter’s Mountain in northeast Marshall County. In 1972, it was designated as a Registered National Natural Landmark. It was purchased by the State Parks System in 1987. The 461 acres of land surrounding the cave is known as Cathedral Caverns State Park. The park has been operated on a limited basis for several years, but will now be open all day, year round.

“This is the best thing to happen so far,” said Park Manager Danny Lewis. “We’re expecting it to bring in a lot more people.”

Also attending the ceremony were Conservation Commissioner M. Barnett Lawley; Mark Easterwood, Director of the Alabama State Parks Division; former Conservation Commissioner James D. Martin; Lee Sentell, Director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel; members of the Marshall County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and other key supporters of the development of Cathedral Caverns State Park.

Cathedral Caverns was formed over thousands of years by rainwater soaking into the ground eventually forming an underground stream that over time eroded out the limestone rock to form the giant caverns. Cathedral Caverns has the world’s largest cave opening – 25 feet tall and 128 feet wide, and is home to the world’s largest stalagmite, Goliath – 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.

In 1952, 29-year-old Jay Gurley, who worked at Redstone Arsenal, “rediscovered” the cave. He wanted everyone to see, appreciate and enjoy this great natural wonder, so in 1953, he began exploring the darkness of the caverns. It was opened to the public in 1959.

The Gurleys maintained the cave as a tourist attraction for many years, but various difficulties forced its closing. After purchase by the State, a federal grant was awarded in 1993 to fund the necessary work to assure the cave’s reopening. Restoration work began in 1995. That same year, Cathedral Caverns provided the cave setting for the Disney Studios film “Tom & Huck.” Unfortunately, Jay Gurley did not live to see the finished product. He died in May of 1996.

An archeological excavation in the mouth of the cave in 1988 by the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University discovered artifacts of early inhabitants including arrow heads, large spear points, drills, knives, hide scrapers, pottery shards, and animal bones indicating that the cave was a gathering place for early inhabitants of Alabama dating back to the archaic period in 6000 B.C.

Cathedral Caverns State Park is located two miles north of Grant, and is open for cavern tours from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. seven days a week. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children under 12. 

For more information on Cathedral Caverns State Park and any other state parks click here