What Are Those Buildings?


What was this?

Clinging to the edge of the limestone bluff stands a building that looks to be well over a century old. The wooden planks of its front wall stand crooked and slanted as over time they have grown tired and decided to lean on one another for a little rest. The tin roof is peeling and covered with Virginia Creeper that turns a bright red every fall season. For years, as I’ve walked past this old building I have wondered how long it has been standing there, and how many memories are contained within its three remaining walls. Beneath the floor, visible through the holes in the wood, is an aged metal water tank sitting conveniently next to a wet-weather spring. At the bottom of the cliff just above the river is an equally ancient structure not much larger than a doghouse that served as a pump house. At times of year when the spring wasn’t running, water could be pumped up to the storage tank above. Over the years working at Lost River Cave I have heard many questions about that building as well as numerous theories as to how that building may have been used.


The old water tank.

A common answer is that that building was the honeymoon suite. There was a tourist court operating at Lost River Cave during the 1930’s through the 1950’s featuring several cabins that visitors could rent and spend the night. This particular building is larger and constructed differently than the standard cabins were. It has multiple rooms, and was the only one with water. The idea of this being a “deluxe” version of the accommodations at Lost River Cave is a realistic idea, and it has been reported as such by visitors who have been here in the old days.

The second theory I have heard, and this one was speculation based on the structure of the building, is that this building might have been something along the lines of a general store for use by those staying at the tourist court. This idea was proposed by a guest on one of my tours that had a hobby involving old buildings and their uses. He said that the size and shape of the front window led him to believe that customers were once served from that window.

The story I heard thirteen years ago, is the one I personally like to rely on the most. It was the first year that we were open for the winter. That year winter was an incredibly slow season for Lost River Cave business. Over the winter, we averaged about six people over the weekends, and zero people throughout the week. I spent a lot of time trying to find ways to spend my time that season. Usually on Saturday, I would be the only person on staff. I would come in, get the cave and boats ready for any tours that might run, then head up and open the gift shop. As the Friday closer usually had plenty of free time too, the visitor center was always clean and ready to go when I showed up. I would double check that the gift shop was ready, get the cash register ready, and open up for business. Around 11:30 or 12:00 I would take a lunch break, putting a sign on the window letting people know when I would be back. Every once in a while, usually after lunch, someone would come in for a tour. This day, the people that came in were not interested in a tour of the cave, instead they were giving each other a tour of the house that had become our gift shop.

“This was Mom’s room, over there was the kitchen, my room was over here. . .”


The remaining tourist cabin.

I knew that I had a great resource on my hands, so I started asking them questions. It turned out, not only did they once live in the building, but their parents owned and operated Lost River Cave back in the old days. Among the other questions, I asked about that old run down building. She told me that when she was young, she worked at Lost River Walnut Company and that she sat in that very building husking walnuts.

Lost River Walnut Company would collect walnuts from the numerous black walnut trees that grew in the Lost River Cave Valley and would also buy walnuts brought in by locals. The walnuts had a number of uses. Not only are they a healthy nut to eat, but the husks have been used to produce dyes, inks, and stains. Iodine can be extracted from the hulls, and the shells, when pulverized, were used to stuff teddy bears and pillows.

So, with three stories, the question still remains, what exactly was that building used for. My best answer is that it could have very well been used as all of the above at different times. This would explain why visitors who had been here at different times in the past remember it for different purposes.

Don’t Give In to the Madness!

Some people prefer to shop at a big box store over a locally owned establishment. Some people don’t mind their hard earned money going to multi-million-dollar corporations instead of hometown entrepreneurs. Some people even enjoy fighting their way through a throng of crazed shoppers on Black Friday to fight for the best deals available that night.


Ready for Christmas Already

If, however, you are not one of these people, we would like to invite you to do your shopping with us this holiday season.

Wildflower Gifts is the gift store supporting the Nature Center at Lost River Cave. Not only is this a local operation, it is a non-profit with a twofold purpose. The original mission for which Lost River Cave was opened to the public was to provide funding to preserve and protect a unique and amazing natural karst feature, as well as to help protect the groundwater in Warren County, Kentucky. As time went on, and the amazing support we have received from our community enabled us to continue on that ongoing mission, the purpose here grew.

Locally made pottery

Locally made pottery

Since the community has given so much to us, we are working on giving back to the community with our Nature Center. We have a certified Nature Explore Classroom that is open to the public, we are restoring prairie grasses in the fields surrounding the Greenways walking and biking trail, there are nature trails in the karst valley that are open to the public and are a great resource for everyone from families who need a day out to the athletically inclined who would like to take on a little trail running.


Locally crafted jewelry

These nature center activities are supported by the sales from Wildflower Gifts. So this Holiday season, come do your shopping with us, skip the insane crowds, support the local economy as well as local artists who provide some of our items, and help us give back to this amazing community.

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http://ow.ly/i/3HL5f Sign up this now fo

http://ow.ly/i/3HL5f Sign up this now for the 2014 Junior Naturalist Program. Geared to get kids 6-12 back to Nature! http://lostrivercave.com/forfamilies/junior-naturalist-program/

Where Does Your Water Go?

It was springtime and the water at Lost River Cave had been running a little high. Every morning when I got up I would check the weather forecast for that day’s chances for rain. Springtime in Kentucky is thunderstorm season and thunderstorm season at Lost River Cave can lead to flooding of the cave. This morning, there was a front coming through bringing with it thunder, lightning, and heavy downpours. So I grabbed my rain jacket, and some clothes that had already been basically ruined crawling around in Lost River Cave.

100_1755The first few tours ran normally, but then it started. I didn’t initially feel the wind, because I was down in the valley, but I could hear it and I could see the tops of the tallest trees whipping back and forth. The creaking of the branches as they bent and arched was a little nerve wracking, so I moved under the forty foot thick limestone roof of the cave. Then, as if someone had tipped over a giant bucket, the deluge of rain came pouring down. There was no doubt in any of our minds that the cave was going to flood.

Even during a major storm event, there is time to make preparations. The cave doesn’t flood instantly, so we drove one of the boats to the back of the tour area, pulled the few spillway boards from the dam to get the water as low as possible, then proceeded to use our hoist to get the boats out of the cave. Once all the equipment was put away to wait for calmer water we went home, there would be no more tours that day.

Another year, a little later in the season, the water had again been running high, but the forecast gave us a better chance. That day the forecast called for a mere 30% chance of scattered storms. I came to work much more relaxed this time. The morning went normally, the sky was blue, with whisps and tufts of cotton blowing by, it was warm and humid, but there was no sense of impending doom.

Then, the river started to change color, the bluehole darkened, turned murky, then brown and the water started to rise. Another tour guide and I looked at each other confused. Why was the water rising when the sky was clear?

We ran up to the visitor center and pulled up the radar map. Although there was no storm where we were, a sever thunderstorm had blown up south of us right where our drainage basin is. The downpour wasn’t on us at Lost River Cave, but as it poured into the caves and sinkholes south of us it started rushing through the underground corridors in our drainage basin towards us. We went through the steps again, pulled the boats and put things away.

That flood, really made a solid impression on me about our drainage basin, it caused me to really start thinking about the fact that whatever we do in one place, will then affect everything downstream from there. If I go down to Basil Griffin Park in Bowling Green and dump a bottle of water there, it will end up in Lost River Cave, then travel under Bowling Green, under the campus of Western Kentucky University, all the way to the other end of town. It will come out at Lost River Rise, near Lampkin Park, and continue on its way to the Barren River.

If I go to Chaney’s Dairy Barn and drop my ice cream, it will melt, then sink into the ground and also eventually make it to Lost River Cave.

If I drop something less benign on the ground the same is true as well. This is called non point source pollution. Non point source pollution includes basically everything on the ground that doesn’t belong in our groundwater. There are steps we have taken at Lost River Cave to reduce pollution in our groundwater, and there are things that you can do to help keep our groundwater clean.

Our storm water treatment area, is not what you might think when you read that phrase. We have built a wetlands water treatment area, Imagedesigned to allow soil and plants to remove waste from storm water before the water works its way into the groundwater. As well as being an effective way to treat groundwater, it has become a part of the attraction at Lost River Cave. The wetlands is a habitat for frogs, insects, and birds including families of ducks that come each year. The cattails, lilly pads, and other plants make this an attractive place for a short walk before heading down for a cave tour. We are very proud of our water treatment area that is also an attraction for guests and a habitat for a variety of animals.

If you are an educator, please consider bringing a field trip to learn more about our wetlands in-depth, hands on educational programs. You can find information on our field trip offerings here.

For great information on things you can do to reduce non point source pollution at home click here.

“They’re Like Little Green Brains”


“Monkey Brain!”

It happens every fall; I walk up from a cave tour and come across a group waiting for their tour. One of them sees my uniform and name tag and comes to me with a question mark floating over his or her head. As the guest says, “I have a question for you,” others in the group lean in. It seems they also would like to hear the answer to the forthcoming question. Having been through this for many autumn seasons now, I already have a pretty good idea of what the question is going to be. I respond, “What’s your question?” and the guest says, “There are these little. . .green. . . things on the ground that look like. . . monkey brains or something. What are they?”


“It looks like an old banana peel…”


These “monkey brains” are one of the two tree features that inspire questions each fall at Lost River Cave, the other one is a long brown pod that is often described as looking like an old banana peel. I’d like to shed a little light on these fall ground decorations and the trees that produce them.




Osage Orange Tree at Lost River Cave

First of all, the “monkey brains” the fruit of a tree known as the Osage Orange (Malcura pomifera). The fruit is often referred to as a hedge apple. This tree was used profusely as a hedge row tree both for the purposes of being a windbreak as well as a cattle fence before the wide availability of barbed wire. I have heard it said that to build an Osage Orange hedge, you dig a trench, line up the hedge apples in the trench, cover them, then walk away. The shoots of this tree can grow 3-6 feet in a single year, so before long you had a thick hedge row with twisted intertwining trunks. Making it especially useful as a fence are its short, stout spines present on the branches. The fruit is not poisonous and can be eaten by humans, but, and I’ve not tested this myself, apparently it tastes absolutely awful. When exposed to frost the taste improves and becomes “cucumber-like” which to me is still absolutely awful, but to each his/her own. The wood has been considered very useful. It resists rot, has a tight grain, and is dense therefore it makes excellent tool handles, tree nails, and fence posts. It is also an excellent wood for making bows. In fact the French name for the tree is “bois d’arc,” which means “bow-wood.” The fruit of the tree was long believed to be a repellent for spiders and insects, and studies have found that an extract from the fruit indeed is an effective insect repellent.


Honey Locust Tree, notice the thorns on the right of the trunk.

Our other interesting tree is easy to spot once you know its distinguishing characteristic. That would be the gigantic, sharp, scary looking thorns that emerge from the trunk of the Gleditsia triacanthos, or “Honey locust.” In the past, the thorns have actually been used as nails. The wood of this tree is very high quality, but isn’t used often, probably because people don’t like working with a tree which has thorns that can puncture tractor tires. The seed pods that catch people’s eyes on the trails this time of year are where the “honey” part of this tree’s name come from. They contain a thick, green, very sweet pulp inside that was used as food by Native Americans and can be fermented to make beer. The seeds in the pulp have even been roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

No wonder the tree is covered in thorns larger than my hand. It has fruit growing on it that can be made into both beer and coffee.

So, that’s a wrap on the two most asked about trees at Lost River Cave. Come on down and get acquainted with them for yourself. We have wonderful nature trails to hike, and while you’re here, take a cave tour as well.

For lots more information on what we have to offer, find us online at lostrivercave.com, and follow us on facebook.

Junior Naturalist Program

I have been called lots of names by my daughter. None of them have been mean so far. The ones that make me smile the most are, “Nature Detective Dad,” “Nature Tracker Dad,” and “Bird Watcher Dad.” It seems that she has signed me up for all of her nature clubs. We hike through the woods looking for animals, observing their behavior, following their tracks, and doing all sorts of other fun nature activities. She has learned a passion for nature through a variety of inputs, but I firmly believe that the most effective teaching methods we have used with her have been direct exposure to nature. While she does enjoy learning about nature through books and television shows, nothing compares to getting out there and getting her little shoes dirty.

The challenge for me as a father is to make sure I have enough information to share with her, she is learning at such an amazing rate that I have to study just to keep up with her questions. Thank goodness for a little something called Google.


At Lost River Cave, we have an even better resource to get kids learning about nature, and that is the Junior Naturalist Program. We schedule six classes throughout the year, starting in January, then every other month with the last session in November. Each class features a different aspect of the natural world. Topics this year include the water cycle, birdwatching, trees and wildflowers in the natural habitat, the insects, reptiles, and amphibians in the nature center at Lost River Cave, seasons and their effect on the natural habitat, and cave geology which features a wild caving trip for kids.

For full information on this program, visit our website at this link.

Kid’s Discovery

They gathered around the hole in the rocks, leaving daylight behind them. One by one they carefully lowered themselves a step at a time down the limestone rocks and into the darkness. As they entered into the first room, tall enough to sit up in, but not stand, they could already feel the cooler temperatures that exist when one leaves the sun’s warmth on the surface. After receiving some information on safety and teamwork, they each took their turn lying flat on their bellies in the mud to half crawl, half slide into another underground chamber below.


No this is not a scary story for halloween, this is how the Kid’s Discovery Cave Crawl at Lost River Cave begins. If you have ever wondered what a exploring a cave is really like, this is a great introduction to caving. On this two hour tour, children are supplied with the helmets and kneepads necessary to safely traverse the underground environment. They are taught the importance of following safety rules, communication with the group, and teamwork in an exciting underground adventure. The whole experience takes about 2 hours, and is an experience that a child will never forget.

I have had a lot of experience underground, I’ve assisted in the mapping of caves and have gone through some passageways that my wife prefers I don’t tell her about. Compared to that the Kid’s Discovery Cave Crawl is a walk in the park for me, so seeing it through the eyes of the children on the tour is a great pleasure and reminds me every time to appreciate every little discovery along the way.

On my last trip, there was a mysterious item that none of the kids could identify found in an upper room. They determined quickly that it was man-made, but they could not figure out what it was or how it was used. I never thought that I would be explaining what a pull tab is to a group of six-year-olds, but it made a great concrete lesson about why we work so hard to preserve and protect the cave environment today.

The list of lessons that kids don’t realize they are learning along the way include geology, history, environmental conservation, safety, teamwork, and a love of nature and how our world is interconnected with things we never even see.

So, send your kids on the Kid’s Discovery Cave Crawl for a great adventure.

As an added bonus, parents now have two options, send the kids in with our highly trained staff while you have a nice quiet lunch, or join in and get muddy with the kids.

Just be sure and bring clean clothes for everyone!

Only Two of These In Kentucky

Lost River Cave has one of only two Nature Explore Classrooms in the state of Kentucky. Come visit our Nature Explore Classroom and get those kids outside, off the couch, and out from in front of those screens.

Arbor Day Foundation says it better than I can, so:


Come Camp Out at Lost River Cave


As I walked in that morning, the smell of breakfast cooking over a campfire encroached upon my senses. The cool, autumn morning air seemed to carry the aroma to me. Even though I had eaten breakfast already, my mouth began to water and my stomach grumbled with delight that this tempting food was near. The tents were still up and most of the campers were still asleep. It seemed odd to me to look forward and see a quiet campsite, then look behind and see people driving to church on a five lane road that Sunday morning.

While at Lost River Cave it is easy to forget that you are inside a city. Many times I’ve had people remark to me that it was like stepping through some kind of gateway or portal and leaving the city behind. The annual Great American Backyard Campout takes advantage of this wooded seclusion within walking distance of a convenience store. Depending on your taste, you can go back to basics and stay at the campsite, or if you prefer, you have the opportunity to “cheat” and go grab a pizza. (Just in case your campsite cooking skills fail you.)

So gather up your camping gear, it is time for Lost River Cave’s third annual Great American Backyard Campout. This is a very popular event and spots fill up quickly. It is no wonder that this event sells out, you get so much more than just a place to camp. Our event has a variety of activities from arts and crafts to backpacking seminars. This is an amazing way to get in some rest and relaxation and come together as a family. Image

The Great American Backyard Campout serves as a chance to get the kids outside and moving. It is so important in today’s world to get people, but especially children outside and on their feet. Today’s biggest threats to our health, well being, and happiness are the very activities that we engage in daily. Spending hours sitting, staring at a screen, and generally not moving around is damaging our health as a nation. So take this opportunity to get your family some much needed medicine, sign up for our campout here. We have lots of fun waiting for you.

You bring your camping needs, and let us provide the fun.

We provide campfires, hot dogs, marshmallows, bathrooms and port-a-potties, crafts, activities, games, a frozen yogurt social, and of course the great outdoors. There is even a $3.00 breakfast available Sunday morning (purchase tickets at registration).

Plan ahead and  you can experience the biggest adventure in Bowling Green. See sights not seen on the boat tour with our ImageFamily Cave Crawl Tour. Ages 5 and up are welcome and space is very  limited so make reservations for that as quickly as you can. This is the best opportunity you will have to see cave animals, view fossils embedded in the limestone, and get a closeup view of our “soda straw” stalactites.

Also in October: Fall Break Bash featuring boat tours for only $7.00, our second annual Scarecrow Trail, and pumpkins for sale. Check our events page here for more details.

On White Squirrels: No, Not Albino

The whispering started again. I was not surprised as I had seen this behavior dozens if not hundreds of times before. I knew that my talk on the geology of the blue hole at Lost River Cave was about to take a back seat. It usually starts with one person quietly and politely nudging someone they came with, then whispering while pointing behind me. Next it spreads, more nudging and pointing and before long the planned speech has been completely upstaged by Flake, one of our resident white squirrels. 


I’ve learned, and now when it starts I will say, without turning around, “If you look behind me, you will spot one of our white squirrels.” The first question is, “How did you know it was there?” and then the Frequently Asked Questions start rolling.

A popular site in Bowling Green, KY especially on the campus of Western Kentucky University, and here at Lost River Cave, are our white squirrels. When I was in college I heard many ridiculous explanations of their origins. Some said it was an experiment in the biology labs, others said the fault was with the chemistry or physics students doing bizarre experiments. My all time favorite put the blame for the white squirrels on a grand art project by students at the art department at the university. 

The real explanation? Nobody can give a perfect explanation of the white squirrels, but there are several factors that could come into play that help explain our population of white squirrels.

To head off the usual first question, none of the white squirrels I have seen at Lost River Cave are albinos, they all have dark eyes, not pink ones. Tree squirrels have a large amount of variability in coat colors, one of those variations is the white coat. Generally in nature the white coat is selected against because it is not good for concealment in a tree canopy. In settings where there are few natural predators, like the urban setting around Bowling Green, white squirrels have an extra chance of surviving. It has also been proposed that the white squirrels are able to blend in somewhat in areas with lots of white buildings and light colored concrete. Finally, white squirrels being less common around the world than squirrels of a different color, they often get “encouraged” to survive by people. In some towns, they have actually made an effort to remove squirrels that were not white in order to increase the white squirrel populations. That has not happened here, but I know from experience that Flake attracts the attention of guests who bribe him to pose for a picture with treats that his poor grey cousins don’t get.

Fortunately for those who are curious about the white squirrels, our most well known white squirrel at Lost River Cave likes to hang out in an area easily accessible by guests. As you head down the trail towards our big bridge, just as you start to walk under a tree canopy is Flake’s favorite hangout. These last few weeks in the afternoon I have seen him perched on a dead branch of an eastern red cedar there working on opening a walnut. 


For more information on white squirrel populations you can go here.

And if you’d like to come meet Flake, come visit us at Lost River Cave