By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
If you’re missing the Carter Caves’ Haunted Trail, and want to try something else spooky at the caves this holiday season, the park has you covered – with a new Halloween event, Cascade After Hours: Legends of Carter County for the older kids and adults, and a movie series for the entire family on Saturdays.
The Cascade After Hours event, which kicks off at 7 p.m. each Friday evening in October, takes participants on a lantern lit journey through Cascade Cave with a different local legend or ghost story told at each stop.
While park naturalists Paul Tierney and Coy Ainsley know the Haunted Trail was a beloved institution, with the loss of volunteers post-COVID, they explained, they just couldn’t keep the event going at the same level they were before. So, rather than put it on in a compromised form, they decided to work on something new that highlights the spookiness of being underground, in the dark.
“Undertaking something that huge, Coy had been doing that for 14 or 15 years,” Tierney explained.
“We started years ago in the campground,” Ainsley continued. “The campground, at the time, that’s where all of us working the trail parked, because there was nobody in the campground. Then we started the Haunted Trail, and just over a few years it started getting more and more popular, and the next thing you know the campground is completely full all the Haunted Trail weekends in October, and the trail just continued from year to year to get, I guess you would say bigger and better. It wouldn’t necessarily get longer, it was still the same distance, but we were going from jam boxes to being able to get some electric drops along the trail and it allowed us to do a lot more visually, using electronics, and speakers and lighting – different lighting – and this and that. Then the scenes kept getting more elaborate. We were physically building structures to be able to have people inside of and stay out of the weather through the three weeks that the Haunted Trail was up and being built. So just physically building those structures to do the scenes for it was a couple of weeks of work, and then we’d spend a week and a half or two weeks decorating and figuring things out. Then we would run the event for three weeks, and then we’d take the next two or three weeks to tear everything down and pack it away. That took a lot of work. It took a lot of staff. And it also took a lot of volunteers to be able to run the trail, and so we just saw the attendance and everything continuing to go up, and the Haunted Trail to get better and better year after year, and we felt like it hit a peak, and it was about ready to start going down the other side as volunteers were falling off.”
Then the pandemic hit, and it made their decision for them.
“Once you go from an event that had such an enormous following, and then we had to cancel it for two years in a row, in order to get it back to the same place that it was, it would have been a monumental task,” Tierney added.
So, he explained, they decided to end the Haunted Trail at that high point and begin building something new – the Cascade Cavern Legend Tour.
While it’s new, it’s built on the legacy of an older event, Ghost Stories in the Cave.
“It was more of a come in the caves, sit down in the venue, and this was the room, the ball room,” Ainsley said. “That event had gone on for years and years, but it was only one night each year, around October 31, or whatever weekend that was closest to Halloween.”
“But as far as what we’re doing here, it’s kind of a different approach to it, because people are going to be moving throughout the cave. They’ll be hearing different stories in different parts of the cave. The caves going to be seen like no one’s ever seen it either,” he continued.
But what stories can folks expect to see? While Ainsley and Tierney are reluctant to give out too many details, Tierney did say they were all inspired by local stories.
“I think every area has their own haunts and haints,” Tierney said. “You know, kind of their own legends, of different stuff. I know around here, of course, you’ve got the legend of Bethel Hill, the ghost of the bride who dies on her wedding night and crawls to the front of the church. So those types of things. I’ve always been interested in those types of things.”
Other stories, he said, included the story of Earl, a moonshiner who lived, and died, near one of the entrances to Cascade Cave. He said his father described the old man as one of those real life characters, a “shoot first and ask questions later” type.
“Actually, one of the entrances is only a very, very short distance from where his homestead is… and very close proximity to where he eventually met his demise, so that’s going to be one of the things we talk about on this trip,” Tierney said.
One of the other subjects is the Swift Silver Mine legends. Though no silver has ever been located and mined in Carter Caves or the surrounding area, at least as far as we know, Tierney said geologically it is a possibility. But whether the legendary Swift silver came from a mine, or a purloined pay shipment for soldiers, the stories say once Swift was out of jail and able to return for it, his eyesight was too bad to find any of the markers he’d left for himself. So, his hoard stays hidden to this day.
In all there will be four stories, shared at different stations throughout the cave, with small tours filtering through throughout the evening, every 15 minutes or so.
The duo said they found during the pandemic that the smaller tours they were taking, by necessity because of the virus, actually were a lot more rewarding for participants because they had more opportunity to ask questions and interact. That’s the kind of experience they hope to recreate with the small groups on the Cascade After Hours Legends of Carter County Tour.
Costs for the tour is $20 for adults, and $10 for children, though the tours aren’t recommended for children under eight or any child who may be sensitive to scary stories. Reservations are required, and spots may be reserved by calling the front desk of the lodge.
Other events throughout the month include Saturday movies, with Beetlejuice up this weekend and Ghostbusters on October 22. Movies are cash only, and $10 for adults and $5 for children, with concessions available. Movies start at 8 p.m. and viewers are encouraged to bring their own chairs.
For more information on any of these events, contact the park at (606)286-4411 or online through Facebook @CarterCavesStateResortPark.
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