Within 24 hours of opening online registrations, more have registered to participate in this year’s Winter Adventure Weekend at Carter Caves State Resort Park than during the first dozen days of signup last year.

“So far, we’ve had 330 registered,” said park naturalist Coy Ainsley, who notes the event has become increasingly popular each year since it was adopted as a replacement for the park’s extremely popular annual Crawl-A-Thon, which was canceled because of the threat of spreading white-nose syndrome among the park’s Indiana bat population.

“We had 100 or 120 people the first year, and last year we had 430 folks. It has definitely taken off and grown considerably over the last four years,” Ainsley said, adding there are still many caving enthusiasts who hope for the return of the original “wild caving” weekend.

“It was the first big caving event of the year, and one of the only winter activities,” Ainsley explained, adding the wild-caving opportunity during the Crawl-A-Thon was a somewhat rare resource for groups including Scouts and others. At least one Scout group from Huntington continued to visit the park during the last weekend of January, he said, and others have started to return for the Winter Adventure Weekend, which offers a variety of activities as well as opportunities to learn more about non-caving outdoor pursuits such as hiking, kayaking, recreational tree climbing, cave tours, winter survival, rappelling, archeological field trips, rock climbing and zip line experiences. Last year’s Winter Adventure Weekend added so many new experiences, Ainsley said volunteer organizers were hard pressed to find anything additional this year, although they were pleased to resume former Crawl-A-Thon activities including a hike and visits to two caves as well as the Tygart’s Gorge and “slacklining,” which he said should offer a great deal of excitement.

“It is kind of like with skateboards or bikes for experienced slackliners. People with experience can do all kinds of tricks and flips,” he said, advising newcomers to search YouTube for “extreme slacklining” videos. The activity can also be done indoors with the aid of a “slack rack,” he noted. Geocaching and a rope-making workshop have also been added to this year’s event.

Volunteers have also spent the last two to three months adding to the “corrugated cave” in an unfinished basement area at the park’s lodge, Ainsley said, adding the simulated cave, made from cardboard, will soon be surveyed and submitted for consideration in the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s longest cardboard cave system. With a chuckle, Ainsley said he was personally defeated during a recent excursion into the corrugated cave when he decided to attempt a new passageway.

“The volunteers add to it every year and they create some pretty evil passageways,” he said, noting the passage which stopped his exploration may have been designed for a much smaller person or even a child.

The bulk of Winter Adventure Weekend’s participants drive in from surrounding areas in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio, he said, although this year’s event will also welcome visitors from Maryland, Tennessee, Indiana and Virginia.

The fifth annual aAdventure weekend will be  Jan. 24 through 26, and guests are asked to select from a list of guided trips — for beginners and advanced winter adventurers alike, they want to take. Each trip level is based on the difficulty and skills required. The higher the level, the more skills and special equipment are needed. Guests will be responsible for appropriate dress, water, snacks and other items.

A list of the trips, along with registration information and other details are available at winteradventureweekend.com. All participants must register online at this site. The nonrefundable fee for adults (ages 13 and older) is $30, and the nonrefundable fee for children ages 6 through 12 is $20. Some  trips have additional fees. (All participants must be at least 6 years old. Some trips have additional age requirements.)

Ainsley said newcomers are encouraged to visit the website to determine what they would enjoy doing, as well as any equipment needed.

“That way you don’t have somebody show up for wild caving with paddling gear,” he said, adding anyone who still has questions after visiting the website are encouraged to call the park. “We are more than happy to point them in the right direction.”

For more information, call (800) 325-0059.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.

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