Louisville Mega Caverns has a variety of ways to spend quality time with your family or get a good dose of education and fun. The man-made caverns lie under the Louisville zoo and all ten lanes of the Watterson Expressway (I-264); they have blossomed as an integral part of family entertainment in Louisville. The caverns are classified as a building and labeled as the largest building in Kentucky with its own building code despite being underground. It is also considered the largest "green" building due to its methods for heating, cooling and recycling. Year-round entertainment includes tram tours, zip-line tours, drive-thru Christmas light shows and more. They also have Segway tours on the way.
One might wonder if the caverns are full of critters, but it seems that bats do not like the lighting used in the caverns, making them a rare appearance. A red tail hawk took care of the pigeons that were there, and raccoons have never been spotted despite the appearance of their tracks. A regular visitor is the storm dog - a stray dog that comes into the cave to hide before a storm. Despite the lack of critters in the caverns, there are plenty of geese and squirrels living outside and acting as parking attendants. The geese were paired up and sitting in some of the free parking spots as if to say "taken" when we arrived.
The Tram Tours
The tram tours offer an informative and historical trip through the caverns for people interested in remaining seated through the tour. It covers a lot of (under) ground while guests learn about the types of businesses that rent space in the caverns for storage and some of the history behind the creation of the caverns.
Our guide, Kevin, was friendly and did a great job telling us about some of the history. Although a pre-recorded tour guide offered information while the tram was in motion, Kevin got out of the jeep to point out key elements and information like showing us the bolts in the ceiling that are 6 to 8 feet in length and hold 35 tons each. He also told us about the limestone that forms the caverns and how it is integral to Kentucky economy. Horseracing and bourbon are two of Kentucky's top businesses and they are both here for the limestone. The calcium permeates the earth (grass/plants) and water, which are used in bourbon distilling and create stronger bones in race horses.
The caverns were originally created as a mine by Ralph Rogers of Louisville Crushed Stone in the 1930's. He mined for rock to create bridges and highways, which was especially lucrative for him during the Depression when the government put people to work constructing these roadways.His team blasted out the 100 acre limestone cavern and hauled limestone out of it until about 20 years ago. The mine was originally 90 feet deep; The Mega Caverns brought in 650,000 truck loads of recycled materials ranging from Corvette bumpers and roofing shingles to concrete and plastic keyboards to fill in the pits and raise the floor, so that the cavern ceilings would only be about 25 feet from the floor; this makes the space better suited for rental to businesses.
The cavern ceilings are supported by 223 Pillars, which is five times the amount required by mining regulations for safety. The caverns were prepared for use as a fall out shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960's. Food and provisions were stored for 50,000 people in case of attack. The tour takes visitors through an exhibit of a post-attack campground if the shelter had been utilized, showing cots, mannequins, lanterns and other provisions. There is also an actual film from the era that is projected onto a huge rock wall in the cavern. After viewing the film, the tram travels through what appears to be a tunnel, but is actually an illusion created by the strobe light and fog (warning to epileptics).
The caverns are now used by businesses to store materials in a safe place, since the cavern offers a place that is safe from tornados, earthquakes or terrorist attacks. The buildings underground are also extremely safe from fire. Their walls are made of fiber-rock and each have a 2 hour fire rating. There is also an emergency escape corridor that is 2,500 feet long and is the only one of its kind in the United States. It has pumped fresh air and pushes any smoke away from you as you move through it. The City of Louisville actually considers a person outside as soon as they step into the corridor.
"This is the safest place in Kentucky," says co-owner Tom Lowry. He further claims that the underground facility is more secure than Ft. Knox. Businesses that utilize the caverns include MGM Studios, Underground Vaults and Storage, food companies, and the city of Louisville stores the rock salt there that they use for our roads. People store boats, RVs, and vehicles underground as well.