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Inner sanctum

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Speleofest event offers much to explore

By Robert Villanueva

By ROBERT VILLANUEVA

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rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com BONNIEVILLE — Kim Gentry hopes Speleofest 2008 will offer cavers and non-cavers alike the opportunity to explore. Not only caves, but other interests as well.

“We’re hoping this year to have three different bands,” Gentry, Speleofest chairwoman, said.

In the past, only one band was featured during Speleofest on one night. This year, bands are slated to play Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

The event, which will be at the 67-acre Lone Star Preserve in Bonnieville Friday morning through Monday morning, is an opportunity for cavers to explore caves they don’t often get to go to or might not have been to at all, Gentry said. It is also a chance for cavers to socialize with other cavers and for interested people to learn more about caving.

In addition to more music, this year's event will host two guest speakers as opposed to past years in which it featured only one. Saturday’s speaker will be Dr. Warren Campbell, professor of civil engineering at Western Kentucky University. Jim Kennedy, cave resources specialist at Bat Conservation International, will be guest speaker Sunday.

A new event, to be held in connection with American Caves Conservation Association, occurs Saturday.

“That’s another thing we’re doing for the first time this year,” Gentry said. “We’re going to do a cave clean-up.”

Participants who register for the clean-up will be provided with lunch and refreshments.

This year marks the 37th year the event has been held. Speleofest is hosted by the Louisville Grotto, which purchased Lone Star Preserve in 1998.

And the event is not just for cavers.

“It is open to the general public,” Gentry said.

In preparation for Speleofest, Gentry and other volunteers have been working at Lone Star Preserve, clearing areas for campsites and putting up signs, among other things. Primitive campsites at the event will have electricity, water, primitive showers and port-a-potties.

“Pretty much everyone who shows up will be camping,” Gentry said.

People who purchase a one-day pass are generally the only exception, she said.

Along with the music, guest speakers and cave clean-up, other highlights of the three-day event include vendors, a dinner banquet, food and, of course, caving.

Friday night will feature a “meet and greet” social hour at Lone Star Salt Peter Cave that includes finger food and music.

But one other activity is specifically a favorite among Speleofest attendees.

“Probably the main thing is the door prizes,” Gentry said.

Door-prize drawings are held Sunday. The prizes will be — for the most part — “big” caving- and camping-related items, she said.

For those who are cavers, sign-up sheets will be available for specific caves of varying difficulty ratings. But most caving trips, she said, are full already.

Avid cavers themselves, Gentry and her husband, Steve, have a special link to the activity and even the Speleofest location.

“That’s how we met several years ago,” Gentry said. “In fact, we got married in one of the caves on that property.”

Anyone wishing to attend Speleofest can register Friday morning at the event. A weekend pass is $25 and a day pass is $13 for adults. Limited tickets are available for Sunday’s banquet for $8.

As many as 600 people have attended the event past years, Gentry said, but in recent years attendance has been 200-300. She expected attendance this year to fall in that range.

Speleofest is the main fundraising event for Louisville Grotto, a non-profit organization.

Gentry said the event is a chance for cavers and the general public to see the work being done at Lone Star Preserve.

“I hope they see each year we make improvements to the property,” she said.

  IF YOU GO Registration for the 37th Annual Speleofest will open 9 a.m. Friday at Lone Star Preserve in Bonnieville. A weekend pass is $25 for adults or $13 for adults for a one-day pass. The cost for children 6-12 is $5. Limited tickets for Sunday’s banquet dinner cost $8 each. For more information, call Speleofest chairwoman Kim Gentry at (502) 538-7665 or visit www.caves.org/grotto/louisvillegrotto/. Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.