Horne Lake Caves & Outdoor Centre was honoured to receive the “Innovator of the Year Award” at the 2015 Tourism Vancouver Island Conference held in Campbell River. The award recognizes the innovative design and construction of underground slides and ramps recently installed inside Horne Lake’s Main Cave. The aluminum walkways were initially envisioned as a conservation measure to protect the cave’s crystal formations from foot-traffic but in the final layout, it became clear they could be installed in such a way to add a wild thrill at the same time as preserving the cave environment.
Park Visitors have been impressed with the new tours, submitting rave reviews which resulted in a #1 ranking on the world’s top trip-review site. Imagine entering a cave and cutting past a wall of sparkling crystal formations tens of thousands of years in the making, scrambling up a series of small waterfalls, then climbing onto a metal slide to descend back down under a rocky ceiling, in the dark, illuminated only by your headlamp. Along with the added thrills, another major benefit is the safer travel with better footing than wet slippery rock. The unique design also channels dirt and human detritus into an easy collection point for future cleaning.
The Main Cave Slides & Ramps was the brainchild of Phil Whitfield, a caver and retired BC Parks Planner, who’s name appears on some of the first maps of the caves, over 40 years ago. He proposed limiting human impact by installing elevated walkways over top of the delicate calcite crystals similar to a trail boardwalk installed over a sensitive wetland.
The shiny new hardware is part of an ongoing restoration initiative for Main Cave which has involved hundreds of volunteer hours. The park’s cave tour operator and staff along with caving club members from across BC and even local Scout troops converge on this provincial park annually in an effort to restore the cave environment to a more natural state, that includes the removal of old spray paint and scrubbing years of grime from the limestone walls, revealing sparkling crystals and fossils of ancient sea-life. The results have been outstanding. Richard Varela, Park Director at Horne Lake Caves has said “the cave is looking better than I’ve ever seen it. There is already a new layer of sparkling crystals growing over top of the previous mud and grime. It’s inspiring to see we’re on the right track.”
The restoration project was made possible through a funding partnership with BC Parks, the Canadian Cave Conservancy and the cave tour operator, Island Pacific Adventures Ltd. In the last five years, that partnership has invested significant time and resources toward enhancing the visitor experience and educational opportunities at this provincial park by opening Canada’s only Cave Theater and an updated Cave Interpretive Center that features a fossil display and a small museum exhibit, along with the design and construction of new trails and maps that showcase the park’s geology. The new loop trail includes attractive signage developed with assistance from the Faculty of Geology at Vancouver Island University.
Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is open year-round and offers a wide range of tours and self-guided experiences, both above and below ground. It aims to provide an educational introduction to caves and the associated underground rivers while raising awareness of the role caves play in maintaining clean water and healthy forests. For more information go online to hornelake.com or call (250) 248-7829.
Richard Varela - Park Director
Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park
ph. / fax (250) 339-0555