Ohio Caverns

Jane Hawes

You have to give serious props to the Evans family, owners of the Ohio Caverns: They rebuilt the entrance to this famous geological wonder last year to accommodate visitors using wheelchairs and other mobility aids. It's billed as the Limestone Tour.

The change doesn't enable such visitors to see the entire caverns, but it does allow them to make a quarter-mile-long round trip (by reservation only) on the front end of the mile-long Natural Wonder Tour. The path is long enough to experience the year-round 54-degree temperature and 90 percent humidity underground, to see some of the famous crystalline stalagmites and stalactites and zipper-like rust formations in the caverns, and maybe even catch a taste of pure limestone-filtered water as it drips from the cavern ceiling.

The bathroom building near the new cavern entrance does not appear to be easily handicapped accessible. The stalls are a little narrow, the toilets low-set and the stalls don't have any handrails.

I also inquired about other accessibility issues, namely claustrophobia. At its deepest point, visitors are 103 feet (about 10 stories) beneath the surface. Our guide said that every two weeks they seem to get a visitor who needs help getting out of the caverns because he or she is overcome by anxiety from being in an enclosed space.

"Some people seem to come here purposely to see if they can get rid of their fear," said our guide. When they don't succeed, he added, there is a plan to help: Each tour has one guide up front doing the talking and one at the back end. The rear guide escorts back out anyone who just can't keep going. I would regard myself as someone who doesn't cherish enclosed spaces, but I honestly didn't feel "closed in" at all in the caverns. I think that's mostly because the narrow parts are all below your knees. Everything else feels pretty spacious down there.

Another issue to be aware of are the brown bats that swoop through on a regular basis. They are harmless and do not try to make contact with people (and the guides claimed they never do, but you definitely can feel them whoosh by).

One final issue, as long as we're talking about accessibility (of all sorts), the recommended driving route from Central Ohio to the Ohio Caverns site gets very hilly and curvy-windy once you get on Rt. 245 from Rt. 33. In other words, if you've got passengers who are prone to carsickness, either keep them looking out the windows (and not buried in a book or video game) or be ready to pull over quickly.

All these issues aside, it really is a great place to visit. I asked my young teen son if he wishes we had visited sooner, when he was first studying geology in grade school. He said he wasn't sure he would have absorbed as much information then as he did this time, but he felt the strange sights would appeal to children of any age.