Unique way East Tennessee cave protects tourists from flooding

Anne Brock # State


"I never been in a Tennessee cave!"
exclaimed 7-year-old Gatlin Hinton from Mississippi. He wore a child-sized hard hat with a light atop it as his family toured The Lost Sea inside the cave historically known as Craighead Caverns.

Johanna Chandler was another excited 7-year-old on that tour with her family as they visited from Georgia.

"It was freezing!"
she said about the water in the Lost Sea. Both she and Hinton had touched the water during the point in the boat tour when the tour guide said it was okay to do so.

The Lost Sea reaches depths of 70 feet, spans four and and a half acres and is the largest underground lake in America. The tourist attraction draws 150,000 people each year to Sweetwater, about 50 miles south of Knoxville.

East Tennessee rains can change the water level inside the caverns. So, manager Brandon Freeman said pumps do the job when there's too much rain. He said the maintenance crew checks levels each day.

"They make sure the lake level's at a good depth. If they think the pump has to be turned on, they immediately go down and turn the pump on."

Other safety measures to make the cave inviting to the general public include wide walkways, railings, lighting and phones that can reach above ground when cell phone service fails.

Johanna Chandler's father, John, said he is accustomed to spelunking, or exploring a wild cave on his own. However, his family enjoyed visiting The Lost Sea and its well-lit cavern.

"It's so much nicer being in a cave this way than having to actually get down and go through the muddy rooms yourself."

The Lost Sea offers a "wild" tour of a section of the cave that is still unlit and narrow. However, the tour requires you spend the entire time with a guide who is familiar with the caverns.