Tram gives caverns attendance a lift |

Tram gives caverns attendance a lift

Post Independent photo/Kelley Cox

Attendance at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and ridership on the new Iron Mountain Tramway are up significantly over projections, co-owner Steve Beckley said Wednesday.

Crowds are turning out in such numbers, Beckley and his partners are thinking about adding four more gondolas to the Iron Mountain Tramway, which takes visitors to the Caverns and new Exclamation Point restaurant.

“That would increase our capacity 30 percent,” Beckley said. “But I’m guessing there’s a six- to eight-month lead time with the manufacturer, so it wouldn’t be until next summer.”

The 4,300-foot Iron Mountain Tramway opened to the public on April 26, and the public quickly caught on to riding the tram, touring the Caverns and dining at Exclamation Point. Beckley declined to say how much the adventure park as a whole is exceeding expectations, but numbers are up across the board, including the Caverns gift shop.

“We’ve been averaging 400 to 500 people a day in the Caverns,” Beckley said.

The busiest days have been Memorial Day and Mother’s Day.

“Mother’s Day was almost to the point of being too busy,” Beckley said.

Due to high winds that slowed the tramway on Mother’s Day, there was a two-hour wait for rides to the Caverns, and a three-hour wait for cavern tours.

“We’re looking at ways to improve that,” he said.

Like many new restaurants, it has taken a while to get Exclamation Point up and running smoothly. “We appreciate how patient the people have been,” Beckley.

On the restaurant’s busiest day, 800 meals were served. “That’s a lot for a small kitchen. It’s almost one meal every 45 seconds,” he said.

The original menu included a variety of steaks, pastas, and seafood dishes.

“That’s a lot of food to be putting out,” Beckley said.

Some of the more difficult items have been taken off the menu for now.

Weekends have been busiest for the restaurant and Cavern tours. Beckley said every weekend cave tour from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. has been full. “That’s 72 people an hour,” he said.

To help give guests something to do before and after the tours, the park installed picnic tables on the plaza outside the visitors center. And work is nearly complete on a mile-long interpretive trail system and Discovery Rock, an interactive learning center for kids.

At Discovery Rock, kids can sluice for planted gemstones, cut and polish them, and dig in a 20-by-20-foot sandbox for fossils that were originally found in Utah and Colorado.

“These are pretty cool fossils,” Beckley said.

Within a week, a geologist will also be on hand to explain the stones and fossils. “This is a very interesting area, where a kid can learn a lot about geology,” he said.

Steve Beckley and his wife, Jeanne, opened the Caverns in 1999, and for the next four years used vans and drivers to take visitors up Iron Mountain to the Caverns entrance. The caverns were open only from May to October, and the first year 30,000 people toured the Caverns.

The best year was 2001, when 40,000 people toured the Caverns. Numbers dropped to 37,000 in 2002 due to the Coal Seam Fire and other wildfires that struck Colorado.

With the opening of the gondola, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is now open year-round.

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

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