MARIANNA — Florida Caverns State Park is set to partially reopen Monday after almost nine months of repairs following Hurricane Michael.
The museum, visitor center and cave tours will be open to the public.
“I’m looking forward to smiling faces,” Park Manager Jacob Strickland said.
Park employees have worked almost every day since the hurricane last Oct. 10 to get the park ready to reopen.
The Category 5 winds from Michael destroyed 90 percent of the trees in the park, while 60 percent of the park buildings took significant damage. The caverns, however, were not structurally damaged and the historical buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps were also spared major damage.
More than 100 Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees worked together June 14 to help clear mud and debris from the caverns. Volunteers used shovels and buckets to hand-clear 7 cubic-yards of mud and debris from cave walkways. The result was 600 feet of cleared pathway inside the cave.
Cave tours will be limited to a daily first-come, first-served basis and are expected to sell out quickly. Electricity to the cave has not been restored although plans to upgrade the system are in place. In the meantime, tours will be given by flashlight.
The parks staff members are embracing the experience.
“It feels like the cave has returned to its natural state,” speleologist Kelly Banta said.
She said caves are naturally dark, and explorers originally walked through them carrying lanterns. She said that carrying a light gives an authentic feel to the tour.
“There’s a silver lining to this, but it’s buried underneath the hurricane debris,” Strickland said.
He said the Hurricane Michael has created an opportunity to rebuild the park better than it has ever been.