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LED lighting makes for sharp cut in Wind Cave's electric bill

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The light bill at Wind Cave National Park is about 80 percent cheaper now than it was just a few weeks ago.

A $2-million project, which was completed in June, replaced the incandescent lighting system that was installed about 1950 with an energy-efficient, compact florescent LED lighting, park spokesman Tom Farrell said Saturday.

“We definitely needed an upgrade. The system is in, and it’s working fine,” said Farrell, adding that the entire project was paid for by revenue from Wind Cave ticket sales.

The project was initiated after it became difficult to find the parts needed to make repairs on the old system, Farrell said.

On Saturday, the public had an opportunity to see the new lights during free tours that were offered throughout the day. Free tours will be offered again today at the park, which is about 8 miles north of Hot Springs on U.S. Highway 385 North.

The lights serve three primary purposes: improving safety, highlighting intricate formations and showcasing the cave’s complexity, according to Ted Firkins, assistant chief of interpretation for the park.

Wind Cave is unique, officials there say.

Firkins said the cave features 95 percent of the world’s boxwork, which is a rare formation that resembles cobwebs or honeycombs. It also is one of the world’s most complex three-dimensional maze caves, with 134 explored miles found below 1 square mile of earth at the surface, according to Firkins.

In a popular tour area known as the Assembly Room, six passageways are visible, whereas other caves commonly have two or three passageways in larger rooms, Firkins said.

Margo Lund of Warren, Mich., her husband and four children took one of Saturday’s free tours. She said she appreciated how the lights were positioned to illuminate the various formations and the tunnels.

“It seemed natural,” Lund said.

 

A more natural glow is a feature the park service is trying to achieve with the new lights. The LEDs help draw out the true colors of the cave, giving the guests a more authentic experience, Farrell said.

The new system requires significantly less voltage than the old one and helps cut back on the growth of algae in the cave from the unnatural heat generated from the old lights, Firkins said. 

Wind Cave’s temperature hovers around 50 degrees year-round.

Gayla Anderson of Tuscon, Ariz., said the new lights helped make the tour more enjoyable and informative.

“It was very informative, very lovely, all the formations,” Anderson said. “You can see a lot in a short time.”

Another advantage of the new system is that is easier to turn off the lights, which helps conserve energy during the slower parts of the year when tour groups flow through sections of the cave, Farrell said.

Gayla Anderson, another Wind Cave visitor, said turning off the lights was just as impressive as the tour itself.

“When they turned off the lights, that was amazing,” she said. “It was so dark.”

For more information, visit the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/wica.

Contact Holly Meyer at 394-8421 or holly.meyer@rapidcityjournal.com.

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Wind Cave was the first cave to be designated as a national park. The cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex maze caves. The cav…

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