Over the last two decades what once comprised The 7 Caves attraction has become a nature sanctuary covering more than 2,000 acres.
Nancy Stranahan, who visited the Greenfield Rotary Club on Thursday, is with the Highlands Nature Sanctuary. She said she is from Columbus, but always loved The 7 Caves and when she saw it was up for sale and in danger of being sold in lots, she and others took action and bought the property in 1995.
Through the years the sanctuary has grown to 2,200 acres, from what started with about three properties, Stranahan said, to over 60 today. She said it has taken probably $6-7 million to put the acreage together.
Lodging is available at the sanctuary at multiple locations. The bulk of visitors to the sanctuary are people from Cincinnati, Columbus and other large cities.
Stranahan said that despite popular belief locally, the sanctuary is not closed. The Appalachian Forest Museum and Trails are open April through October, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and are free to the public. She said, too, that the organization is working toward opening its major trails to the public over the next three years. That project requires installation of signage, parking lots, bridges, and stairways first, as well as funding to support the project.
Marble Cave is open as well, she said, and the nonprofit is seeking grants to help in opening all but two of the remaining caves in the future. The two caves to remain closed to the public house bats that are protected by law.
“We’ll get there,” Stranahan said Thursday. “Too many people love this place.”
The not-for-profit conservation group Arc of Appalachia, a grass-roots organization founded in 1995 whose operations are completely supported by private donations, has 15 preserves, mostly in surrounding counties. But the Highlands Nature Sanctuary is the “hub,” Stranahan said previously. It also manages Fort Hill and Serpent Mound.
With warmer months right around the corner events at the sanctuary and other Arc locations are coming up, too.
The sanctuary is holding a special Volunteer Training Day on Sunday, April 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with lunch provided. The event is open to anyone interested in becoming more involved at the sanctuary or Fort Hill, either by working as a museum host or in another volunteer capacity, such as trail maintenance or land stewardship.
Other upcoming events include the 11th annual Wildflower Pilgrimage slated for April 15-17 and will include naturalist-guided field trips, two evening programs, and meals. Also, a spring Women’s Retreat is scheduled for May 13-15 at the sanctuary.
For more information on events, go to arcofappalachia.org and click on the events tab.
“We really believe in visitation and we want people to enjoy this place,” Stranahan said.
For more information, go to arcofappalachia.org. There, more can be found out about the Highlands Nature Sanctuary and other Arc preserves. To contact staff with questions or how to set up a student program, call 937-365-1935.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.