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Revitalized chamber discusses progress, caving

October 09, 2013
There was more than good food on the menu for the October business luncheon meeting for the Crawford County Chamber of Commerce held at Schwartz' Family Restaurant at Eckerty. There was also business, specifically the business of, well, business. Chamber members have one common goal in mind for the future of Crawford County and that is revitalization.

Morton Dale, president, along with vice president Steve Bartels and guest speaker, District 74 State Rep. Lloyd Arnold, who is from Leavenworth, served up a healthy dose of optimism during their presentations.

Arnold said he is often told during his travels that, of all of Indiana, Crawford County is the most scenic county in the state, with the best views and the prettiest scenery.

"We have so much here and so many opportunities here," he said.

Arnold has been traveling to learn more about tourism and economic development in other parts of the state as well as the country in order to bring new ideas to Indiana and invigorate the process of development. He recently met with Spencer County's economic development coordinator and has traveled to Los Angeles to see how things are done there.

"I've learned a lot from their (Spencer County) economic development guy," Arnold said. "That guy knows what he's doing, so I've reached out to him to say 'What are you doing, how do you do this?' "

Seeking out ideas and help is high on Arnold's list, and he said he believes that by working together (government leaders) can make things happen. It is the same approach he used when speaking to members of his home county.

"You guys tell me what I can do, or if you have any ideas, because we're all leaders here in this room, business leaders, community leaders. Things that you see that we can do to make things better, when businesses do decide to come to Southern Indiana, what do they want to see."

Big on the agenda was the question of how to use existing resources to further economic growth inside the county, and everyone had the same thought: how to reopen Wyandotte Cave.

"I'm not going to play the bureaucracy and the game here," Arnold said of his frustration with the situation at Wyandotte Cave. "It's frustrating for me as a state representative to go to Indianapolis and to see that type of bureaucracy or government that doesn't work the way that it should, and a lot of our state agencies need to get better because the left hand doesn't talk to the right hand and, if you want to get something done, you actually have to go to each one of these offices to get these things done."

Arnold has met with Bob Sawtelle, property manager of O'Bannon Woods State Park, as well as the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and many others.

"Their concern is really the bats," he said. "I do see light at the end of the tunnel, just from the aspect that there has been a lot of push. There are other local businesses that have inquired about that also."

"We're losing generations of cavers," he said. "In general, cavers begin between the ages of 10 to 14, when they actually get excited about it and think it's really neat."

The cave has been closed six years now and Arnold said it's not just the state that's interfering with the re-opening process. It's also on a federal level.

The business owners present, however, don't accept that the bats are the only reason why the cave remains closed.

"I'm the last guy to run Wyandotte Cave and more familiar with it that I need to be," Gordon Smith, owner of Marengo Cave, said. "The bats have nothing to do with it; the bats are a smokescreen."

"The bats are nothing more than a convenient excuse, which they love, to keep Wyandotte Cave closed," he said. "It's a battle of reason, but Wyandotte Cave was closed to the public — from my operating it — before the bats were an issue, and, if the bats went away, Wyandotte Cave would still be closed. The problem is apathy at the DNR at the upper levels for caves in general."

Smith went on to detail how a new entrance to the facility could be fashioned in order to protect the animals if it were necessary.

Wyandotte Cave is a limestone cave located on the Ohio River in Harrison-Crawford State Forest in Crawford County approximately five northeast of Leavenworth. It is the fifth largest cave system in Indiana. Formed during the Pliocene Era and designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1972, the cave was a popular tourist attraction before it was closed indefinitely in 2010 due to White Nose Syndrome contracted by bats within the area.

Arnold encouraged business owners and individuals throughout the county to continue to raise awareness for the re-opening of the cave by writing the relevant state agencies.

It isn't just the economy and business owners who are looking for a face-lift.

The chamber itself is hoping for a revitalization of sorts, too, after being inactive for the last two years.

"When we started out this year in 2013, the chamber had been inactive for a couple of years and so we set a vision for ourselves to revitalize the chamber and once again be a valuable asset to the existing Crawford County businesses," Dale said.

Dale said that, during the March meeting, the chamber was just a shadow of its former self, with only one member fully paid up to current. That is one of the more than 200 members the chamber once touted at its peak. Today there are 31 paid members to the chamber.

"I believe that shows the chamber is on the move here in Crawford County, and it's exciting to see everyone here," he said. "Now more than ever, we need to take an active role in attracting new businesses to our county and providing jobs and revenue to Crawford County."

The Crawford County Chamber of Commerce, with Sam Swan as its first president, had 205 members when it formed in 1981. Dale believes the organization once again can be a strong asset to the county and that it is important that the chamber, economic development, tourism and other local agencies work in conjunction with each other to ensure they are successful.

Morton and Bartels were elected to the chamber board of directors at the March 7 meeting, as was Jennifer Davis, who fills the role of secretary-treasurer.

Dale has said be believes the business backgrounds of all three — he retired from Duke Energy after 36 years; Bartels is co-owner of Patoka Marina; and Davis is an administrator with Todd Dickey Nursing and Rehabilitation — are a valuable asset in developing a plan for the chamber to promote businesses within the county and provide them with tools to grow their endeavors.

Bartels invited members to spread the word about the chamber website, www.crawfordcountychamber.com. Members will receive a free listing, and the site will feature a profile of a new or existing businesses each quarter.

Annual membership dues are $60 for businesses and $36 for nonprofits. Individual/associate memberships are available for $24. For more information, visit the chamber's website or call 739-2246.

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