(Jan. 28) -- The U.S. Forest Service is turning thumbs down to a proposal that would reopen an ancient cave located on Mt. Charleston.
Eyewitness News told you about the cave controversy last fall. Some Mt. Charleston residents think the cave could become a tourist attraction but the government says the place isn't worth the trouble.
"The pictures show both stalactites and stalagmites and columns, a pool of clear water in there," said Barbara Orcutt, Mt. Charleston resident.
When Barbara Orcutt learned about the existence of the Soda Straw Cave, she thought it could become a new attraction for Mt. Charleston, one that might attract some rare federal dollars to the mountain as well.
The cave was originally discovered in the early 1960's but was sealed up by the federal government because of vandalism and safety concerns. Before the concrete plug was installed in 1962, many people explored the nearly 800 foot cave and reported seeing stunning formations. Orcutt asked the U.S. Forest Service to at least go in and take a look to find out if the cave could be opened to the public. She says she's received mixed signals from the district ranger.
"One day he tells me, 'Yes I'm prepared to open it up,' next thing I get an email to 'please stop these rumors immediately.' I haven't decided to do anything," Orcutt said.
But Ranger Steve Holdsambeck says he has made up his mind -- the cave will stay closed, first, because it's geologically unstable and may be dangerous, second because there's no easy way to get into it, and third, because he's heard most of the features inside have been removed by vandals.
"We have every reason to believe that almost all of the soda straws were taken as souvenirs. By virtue of the fact that it was broken into so many times, I'm convinced they would have been taken," said Steve Holdsambeck, U.S. Forest Service.
Holdsambeck adds that it is not a prudent time to open the cave.
Orcutt thinks the forest service simply doesn't want the extra work that a cave attraction might represent, so it will grasp at any reason to keep the place plugged up. Holdsambeck freely admits his agency is swamped with other, larger, Charleston issues and programs, and considering the limited appeal the cave might have, he figures, why devote scarce resources to it?
"It won't be a tourist attraction. There's no potential for that. It's a matter of priorities," Holdsambeck said. But he adds, the agency might revisit the idea at some unknown point in the future.
Barbara Orcutt and other Mt. Charleston residents had hoped some of the money from the sale of public lands could go to opening the cave to the public. Now that the cave will remain closed, they will lobby for funds to help the mountain cope with the tremendous growth of the past several years.