State Park Adds Tech to Help Limited Mobility Visitors

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Rickwood Caverns State Park in Warrior has embraced technology to make sure that visitors who have limited mobility are able to experience the cave complex in all its glory – via virtual reality.

Ken Thomas, North Region Trails Coordinator, spearheaded the effort that included an Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Recreational Trails Program grant. Part of the ADECA grant was used to renovate the underground trail at Rickwood and to convert conventional lighting to LED lights, which emit much less heat that will mean a reduction algae growth.

There was also an educational component of the ADECA grant. Working with what he called an informal committee of park managers, it was decided that a virtual reality experience could be achieved using a 360-degree camera, some VR goggles and a 4K high-definition television.

“The whole idea was to share Rickwood Caverns with people who might never have the opportunity to go in there. This is how we’ve done it. It’s a great experience,” Thomas said. “We thought about it and decided that maybe not everyone would be comfortable wearing those virtual reality goggles, so we also have the 55-inch, 4K curved television. You can put someone right in front of that TV and they can control the view using a keyboard. With the goggles, if you look up, you see what is above your head. It gives an entire 360-degree view.”

The virtual reality experience is highlights of a caverns tour, showing 260-million-year-old formations found up to 175 feet below the surface of the earth. Leading the “tour” is Louis Dismukes, who has been involved with Rickwood Caverns since he was a Boy Scout who worked for a dollar a day helping clear corridors in the late 1950s. Dismukes worked at the park as a tour guide when the caverns opened as a private attraction – later purchased as a state park. In the VR video, he once again points out highlights from the fantastic one-mile trek.

“We’re excited about this new experience for visitors to Rickwood Caverns,” said Greg Lein, Director of the Alabama State Parks Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Rickwood is a wonderful destination for everyone and attracts a lot of school groups. This virtual reality tour will mean that students – and others – who are unable to walk through the cave can still enjoy the entire field trip.”

A ribbon-cutting for the VR experience will be Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. Lamar Pendergrass, superintendent of Rickwood Caverns State Park and Cathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville, said visitors who would like to take advantage of the VR tour are encouraged to call ahead before their visit. To contact Rickwood Caverns, call 205-647-9692.

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