MARIANNA, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - After a rocky nine months following Hurricane Michael, the Florida Caverns state park is once again open to the public.
The Florida Caverns State Park is back open after being closed for nine months due to damage sustained from Hurricane Michael. (WJHG/WECP)
It had its soft opening July 1st but celebrated its grand re-opening Wednesday, nine months to the day since the storm.
"We are so excited to have this park open after the damage that was caused by Hurricane Michael. I came over here after the storm and there were trees on the ground everywhere, the cave was full of mud, the campground was flooded, and now we're back in business," said the Director of Florida Parks Service Eric Draper.
The park sustained significant damage. Now workers are thrilled to be back at their jobs.
"We're all here... and if you haven't seen us, you won't notice a difference, and if you did, well, we're back," said the owner of the Florida Caverns State Park Gift Shop Bob Degroot.
The park isn't fully functioning; many natural sections remain closed, but the main attraction, the caverns, is open for tours.
Officials say they expect the full cost of repairs to be around $5 million.
"We're rebuilding the campground which was completely flooded and destroyed, and we're going to have a state of the art new campground, and we expect that's going to take us more than a year to get that campground designed. In addition to that we hope to establish a nationally recognized bike trail," said Draper.
Reopening the park brings a big boost to tourism after months of being closed.
"The hotels here depend--and the restaurants depend on people coming to this park to see the cavern and to see and to recreate the park, and that part of the tourism economy has been lacking and we're hoping to get those visitors back into Marianna and Jackson County," said Draper.
Flashlight tours will be held for the time being as the electricity in the caves has not been fixed.
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