More than three years after closing to the public, the Cody Caves are set to reopen next month with a new business model emphasizing what the new operator calls the “caving experience.”
BC Parks has awarded veteran caver Lee Hollis of South Slocan a 10-year permit to run a commercial guiding service in the provincial park north of Ainsworth.
Tours haven’t been offered since the fall of 2009 when the former operator said he couldn’t afford to run them due to fees imposed through his operating permit. However, Hollis said in an interview he hopes to avoid the same pitfalls by running tours on a telephone booking system.
Previously guides met spelunkers at the cave’s mouth for hourly tours, but now reservations will be required for one of three different tours.
An hour-long family tour will be available on holiday weekends between June and September for $25 per child and $35 per adult with a minimum group of four and maximum of 10 to 12 depending on the ages involved.
The explorer tour is available seven days a week at $85 per person with a minimum of four and maximum of eight. It takes about 3½ hours and goes deeper into the cave.
The adventure tour is also available seven days a week at $125 per person and takes up to six hours, including a tour of the cave conservancy area. The minimum group is two and maximum seven.
“The tours will cover different areas,” Hollis says. “The emphasis is much more on education and the caving experience, so the tours are more in-depth. There are climbs and squeezes which increase the duration of the trip significantly.”
Lights and other equipment is provided. For the adventure and explorer tours, visitors will meet guides at Ainsworth Hot Springs and then convoy to the caves to reduce traffic on the access road.
Hollis, who has been a caver for 26 years, came to Canada in 2007 from England. He worked in Banff for two years before arriving in Nelson to take a job as an automotive service manager. He soon got in touch with Kevin Stanway, the Cody Caves’ previous operator, and received permission from BC Parks to visit the caves during their public closure.
Hollis approached BC Parks about taking over the guiding contract last July and applied for the permit the following month. He has hired Stanway as one of two guides this summer but may have a third and ultimately envisions four depending on how popular the tours are.
Having caved across Canada and around the world, he calls the Cody Caves “a fabulous place … It’s very diverse. It’s got a bit of everything. It’s an active stream cave. It has some very pristine sedimentary layers. The boxwork [calcite formations] is pretty unique. It should be open for the public to see.”
For the first time, tours will be offered year-round depending on access. “There are going to be several months where we can’t get in, but certainly in the winter it’s accessible by sled or ski,” Hollis says. “It makes for a completely different experience. The whole entrance chamber is just full of beautiful ice formations.”
Hollis has established a website at codycavetours.com but says bookings need to be done by phone at 250-359-2283 to ensure visitors know what they’re getting into. Tours are expected to begin mid-June.