BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – The cave system that makes up Bristol Caverns has been around for eons, but co-owner Gary Barnett says it’s just as alive today as it was thousands of years ago.
“You can see most anything inside the cave here, it is still an active cave,” Barnett said. “The formations are still growing and active, you can see the water dripping”
That inflow of water is what formed the cave in the first place. Rain and runoff dissolved material inside the caverns for millions of years before it came into contact with humans in the area. It also served as a touchpoint for residents in the area, Barnett said, and was used by local residents as a water source before being converted into an attraction in the early 1900s.
Today, Bristol is still a destination for curious spelunkers. Tours are available year-round, and the caverns stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
“You actually go down 180 feet inside the cave, and it’s on three different levels,” Barnett said. “The tour does tour through each level of the cave there. Right now we’re showing about a third of it.”
During a walk-through of the cavern, Barnett shared that a resource like this is rare.
“There are so many caves throughout he country that are wild caves,” Barnett said. “There’s over 60,000 known caves in the country today, and you have very few that are actually a business like this where you can actually tour through it and see it.”
From school kids to professional geologists, there’s something magical for everyone once you get that far below ground. Just watch out for Headache Rock, or you’ll learn how it got its name.
“It’s an absolute honor and joy being able to show off a natural wonder like this,” Reid Barnett, Gary’s nephew and one of the business’s co-owners said. “A lot of people come out and are just absolutely awestruck, especially ones that have never been in a cavern before or have been in some smaller caves and caverns. They come out and they’re just like ‘Wow, it’s so big on the inside.'”
Now the cavern is up for sale, and Gary hopes a new owner will continue his 42 years of tradition. From cave weddings to off-trail scrambles through the dark, the business’s underground chambers hold many stories.
“We want to sell to someone that we know that’s going to preserve and protect it over the years and take care of it, and just show it in that type of a manner,” Gary Barnett said. “Not to allow it to be damaged in any way.”
Bristol Caverns is one of the oldest attractions in not only Bristol, Tennessee – but also northeast Tennessee.