It was in 1974 when cavers Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen discovered a sinkhole at the base of the Whetstone Mountains. Forty-fiver years later, after meticulous exploration and painstaking development, that discovery would become Kartchner Caverns State Park.
On Saturday, Arizona State Parks & Trails is hosting the 20th anniversary celebration of this world-renowned cave system. The family-friendly event runs from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and is filled with a day-long list of activities for people of all ages. Visitors will learn about the cave’s discovery and what it takes to preserve a living, breathing cave like Kartchner Caverns for future generations. They’ll hear about the cave’s bat population and how the Big Room is closed to visitors from April 15 to October 15 to allow a colony of cave bats to hibernate, give birth and raise their pups undisturbed.
Entrance into the park during Saturday’s celebration is free. Visitors will be treated to a wide range of educational and fun activities.
The Huachuca Astronomy Club will be on site all day for solar viewing, followed by a star party that goes until 9 p.m., weather permitting. In 2017, Kartchner Caverns was designated as an International Dark Sky Park, a distinction presented by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Local astronomers hold free stargazing events at the park on a regular basis, where they educate the public about the importance of protecting the region’s night sky from light pollution while sharing their passion for the expansive cosmos.
Reptile displays by the Herpetological Society are always a big attraction, with herpetologists on hand to talk about the animals they are showcasing. Geology activities for kids, opportunities to meet Rocky Ringtail and art projects are other activities youngsters enjoy.
Park rangers will be offering a guided hike at 1 p.m. on the Ocotillo Trail and will demonstrate how to use an iNaturalist app to record nature observations while out enjoying the great outdoors.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” said Bob Nilson, tourism supervisor for the City of Benson. “I was at the grand opening 20 years ago at a time when I was a Benson Chamber of Commerce board member, before I worked for the city’s tourism department.”
“Kartchner Caverns attracts people to Cochise County who wouldn’t normally come here, and from a tourism standpoint, that’s a huge benefit for the entire region,” Nilson said. “I’m looking forward to Saturday’s event and the activities the park is offering for visitors. Kartchner Caverns is truly a local treasure.”
The 20th anniversary celebrates Kartchner Caverns State Park’s grand opening in 1999 by showcasing the region’s natural beauty, conservation efforts and diverse plant and wildlife while highlighting the history of the cave’s discovery and development.
“Kartchner Caverns State Park came together through the support of the whole community,” said Arizona State Parks & Trails Executive Director Bob Broscheid. “Over the past 20 years, we’ve created a park with great amenities above-ground and a pristine cave to explore below. It showcases the dedication that parks staff have to making this (park) accessible while conserving it for future generations.”
Broscheid also said that the park’s 20th anniversary recognizes the teamwork that it takes to keep a cave like Kartchner healthy and pristine for more than 20 years, all while showcasing it to more than 125,000 people every year.