The Sunset Dome: Uncovered

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HORSE CAVE, Ky. (WBKO) - The south central part of Kentucky is known for its caves, with Mammoth Cave being the most famous.

Only one town has a cave entrance right down main street. That's Horse Cave.

Some very passionate people are seeing years of work finally coming together, breaking new ground underground, hoping it's the best chance for year's of history to be revived.


"We see it everyday."

Hidden away.

"They're here and they see it for the first time."

Buried from the world above.

"When you see their excitement, their awes, their expressions, it warms you," exclaimed Charolay Russell underneath the streets of Horse Cave.

Now the best chance for a town that's suffering to get back on its feet.

"When I was growing up in Horse Cave in the 50's and 60's, every storefront in Horse Cave had a business in it," said Horse Cave Mayor Randall Curry.

The town of Horse Cave sits in the heart of cave country. It's the home of the American Cave Museum and underneath its one bustling main street sits a second chance waiting to be unearthed.

"The way a town develops on top of a cave is unique in Kentucky and there are very few like it in the world," commented Horse Cave / Hart County Tourism Executive Director, Sandra Wilson.

Hidden River Cave used to be a place where the sewers of the town emptied, but decades of cleanups and land purchases through grants are finally making it possible for the cave to come back to life.

"You've got a big cave like Hidden River Cave. The tourists come to the museum, and say show us the cave now. We'll there hasn't been much cave to show," said American Cave Museum Executive Director, Dave Foster.

Exposing more of that cave is getting easier now the land above it is owned by the group.

"We've watched this small town as well as small towns across America dying over the last twenty years. To me, it's one of the saddest things I've ever witnessed," added Foster as he geared up for another trip into the cave he's dedicated a big chunk of his life protecting.

He let us bring our cameras into the underground world so people above would get a peak at what they've been missing. With the water and hills of mud, we packed up camera gear and even wrapped everything in trash bags for extra safety.

"We had to assist one another up and down the rocks, the sand, the mud, the water," said one of our guides.

Our progress was very slow, but foot by foot, we made it into the cave's main and hidden attraction.

After a trek lasting more than an hour we finally reach the Sunset Dome. The immensity of the room doesn't allow for much light to fill it. Our professional lights meant for TV, could only partially uncover small spots in the room

Before the Sunset Dome closed in the 1940's baseball players were challenged to try and throw a ball to hit the ceiling of the enormous natural theater. As far at the American Cave Museum knows, know ever could.

The dome fills a space of more than five acres, and each time it's seen it brings out more emotion from the people trying to revive it.

"It's peaceful. It's calm. It's exciting. It's a mixture of so many emotions rolled into one."

Gary and Charolay Russell share a love for the cave where they work, and also for each other.

The married couple give tours to the adventurous crews who want to muscle their way back to the dome. They say the resurrecting the beauty of the cave can only help the town they love.

"A whole community is gone. It's lost. It would be a joy to see it come back in some way, some form," added Charolay while she rests on a rock, only able to see as far as her head lamp illuminates.

The solution, the foundation, sitting just below the struggling bricks and mortar above.

"If we could just get to Sunset [Dome], that is the answer," said Gary Russell as our time came to an end in the space. "That is the answer. Just imagine what it took to dissolve five and a half acres. The immensity of this thing, and knowing that time and water did all of it."

To those who trek the cave, such an extraordinary place, needs an idea, that matches it's level of uniqueness.

"We've been thinking in terms of developing an adventure tour down in the big dome. It would involve things like underground zip lines, rope bridges, things a little more unique and different than just a typical walking tour."

It's a dream Dave Foster has had for years now. He believes the high octane tours will allow the cave to stay in its normal state better than anything else, since no one would actually touch the cave in many parts of the tour.

A treasure buried, now being dug out by the people above who care most.

"We did everything we could possibly do to destroy this cave. To see it coming back to life is really exciting," said Foster.

Money still needs to be raised, but the group is closer than they've ever been to seeing a 30 year dream turn into a reality.

"The worst thing right now is to try and fill up the shops downtown."

"This fabulous room that we have down there that nobody in my lifetime has ever seen would be a real addition to the area."

Of course the journey back to the sunset dome for everyone still needs help.

Hidden River Cave has started fund raising that includes a page. A link is attached to this story.

They need $400,000 to get the work done they'd like to see. They've already secured a private grant for the final $100,000 if the first $300,000 is raised.

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