Appalachian Caverns reopens to the public

   By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff
  BLOUNTVILLE -- When the Hartleys heard Appalachian Caverns, a 500-million-year-old cave, was on the auction block they took a gamble and bid the natural wonder and tourist attraction on May 8.
  Roger and Tammy Hartley couldn't resist the idea of owning and operating the historic underground site. The Hartley's two daughters, Ireana, 16, and Tonya, 14, are well on their way to becoming guides themselves.
  Stalagmites are formed from the condesation that drips from the damp ceiling of the cave Irena explaind as she passes by the copper colored formations.
  When asked what possesses a person to buy a cavern, Roger responded with a huge grin on his face, "Why not."
  Once home to Indians, and thought to be inhibited by John and Jim Linville in the 1800s, and most recently a trash dump, Appalachian Caverns is now home to an endangered bat species, and after three long months of jumping through hoops with lawyers and financiers, the Hartleys ironicly closed on the cave, Friday the 13th.
  Previously named Linville Caverns after the two brothers, the name was changed due to the confusion with caverns located in Linville, N.C. The only remaining namesake is Linville Creek, which still flows within the caverns.
  As the legend was told by Justin Jones, a tour guide at the caverns for nine years, John Linville was buried near the entrance of the existing cave. According to legend, he was placed on a "table-type" formation, which still exists today. This is where he was thought to take his last breath.
  Jones stores a wealth of knowledge on science of caves and the distinct habatat it serves for the creatures that live and breed within the muddy cave walls.
  Stresses the importance not disurbing the the delicate pools of water, and caving etiqutte. Justin leads guests off the beaten path and deep into the dark canals.
   Special wild tours offered by the Hartleys, are for the more adventerous. A 16-year-old visitor from Madrid, Spain. Catherine "Cat" Campbell while visiting her grandmother, Ellen Campbell, in Johnson City had her first caving experience with the Hartley's daughters.
  Only here for a short time, Ellen wanted Cat to to make her time in the states memorable.
  An avid snowboarder and climber, Cat had no qualms with squeezing through a 9-inch crevasse. It was a piece of cake. Curiously entering anything the guide would allow, Cat was willing to try anything -- even being reborn again -- literally by crawling through a section of the cave called "the birth canal".
  Cat squirmed through the "birth canal" flashlight in hand, helmet on head and kneepads secure. All three girls and even Roger wiggled through the muddy cave walls, with only space wide enough for one person at a time. Recent rains caused most of the cave to be damper than usual, and full of cold wet puddles.
  According to our guide, the cave can fill up quickly during a flood because of Linville Creek, which flows completely through the ancient caverns. The strong smell of bat guano or cold wet rain water could deter the girls from attempting crawls through the cave.
  After months of negotiation and scientists examining bat guano, the Hartleys have fufilled their dream of sharing the natural wonder of the Appalachian Caverns with everyone.
  The grand re-opening of the caverns will be held Sept. 3. Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. offering a walking tour and a wild tour. The special grand opening price will be $7.50 for adults and $5.00 for children. For wild tour please call for reservations. Call (423) 926-3280 or (423) 323-2337 for more information.