Gary Roberson crawled into his first cave on his first Boy Scout camping trip as a Tenderfoot scout in 1958. He became an active caver the day he received his driver’s license and began mapping in the Binkley cave system in 1967 while attending Vanderbilt University, where he graduated with a business major.
Gary’s first real job was as an investment analyst for Capital Holding in Louisville, which allowed him to continue exploring caves in southern Indiana. He developed Squire Boone Caverns, his first show cave adventure 1971-73, then purchased Marengo Cave with three others in 1973. Roberson left Capital Holding to become manager of Marengo Cave National Landmark in 1974 -a position which he held for 28 years. Gary became a Christian in 1980, which revolutionized his world-view. He sold his half of Marengo Cave in 2001 and returned to working on the Binkley cave survey and looking for a way to develop part of it as a show cave.
Roberson began the development of Indiana Caverns in 2012. It opened to the public in 2013 and Gary continues on their as CEO today. Gary has written three books about his explorations in Binkley cave system, its development and geology. He is married to his life and business partner, Laura. They have two grown children. While Gary is reaching the age where he can no longer participate in the long grueling survey trips to the far reaches of the Binkley cave system, he continues to find ways to facilitate and participate actively in the on going project in one of America’s most significant caves.
How do the experiences you offer at Indiana Caverns give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
Indiana Caverns has just been open for a little over two years, so Indiana Caverns, itself, hasn’t been a part of the culture and history of our area like some other caves that have been open over 100 years. However Indiana Caverns is a part of the Binkley cave system, which is now the second longest cave east of the Mississippi. The Binkley cave has long been known by local residents and has become a project cave mecca for cavers in Indiana and the surrounding area. Residents know that at least every other weekend the cave explorers all meet for breakfast a Frederick’s Café on the square before their survey trip that week. Local residents are proud and interested in having one of America’s longest caves in their backyard.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
The first year we added gemstone mining to the cave tours. After the second summer we added the Journey through the Sabertooth Cave, which is a cave simulator and early in our third year we purchased another 10 acres of land and obtained and option and lease on another 10. We are currently developing one of America’s most epic cave exploring trip options for physically fit participants that includes climbing a 93-foot ladder on belay, rappelling down a steep mountain slope and kayaking up an underground rivers.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
As a recently developed show cave, you can literally look of the trail at spots no one has ever made a footprint before, which is rare in the show cave business. Most visitors don’t realize the the vastness and pristine nature of what they are seeing.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider visiting Indiana Caverns?
That they will experience a variety of different experiences in just one tour- heights, depths, waterfall, big rooms, underground boat ride, opportunity to see rare cave life plus all the usual formations.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Actually travel trends are not really positive for show caves right now. The millennial generation is not as outdoor oriented as their parents. They seem more interested in activities that revolve around spirits and food than outdoor recreation. Kids that grew up with computers are not as comfortable in nature as their parents.
What sets Indiana Caverns apart from other show caves?
The variety of experiences found in one relatively small section of the cave that along with being a part of one of the world’s longest and most diverse biological caves sets us apart.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
First of all, travel in the off season when tours and attractions are less crowded and can provide better overall experience. Second, seek out unique options like small group cave exploring trip options or rappelling underground.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
We are probably the first show cave to be opened in the age of social media. We hired a marketing director who knew how to use Facebook and social media to promote the cavern in the pre-opening period and develop a strong core of followers, who wanted to come see America’s newest show cave as soon as it opened for tours.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Definitely would say ‘ability to work hard, endure hardships and delay gratification.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
One of our guides took an Autistic child on the tour and let them drive the boat, hold the guides flashlight and generally too the time and effort to make it a special experience for them. We received a wonderful Trip Advisor review as a result.