When the doors open at a new interpretive centre and theatre facility at Horne Lake, visitors will be able to experience the magic of caves — without going underground.
Island Pacific Adventures head Richard Varela said the project, when completed, will see a recycled portable classroom from Campbell River turned into a cave theatre and interpretive centre.
“The idea is to increase visitor education and services and to make it more appealing to people who would otherwise never go into a cave,” Varela said. “We’ll have Canada’s first and only wheelchair accessible cave theatre.”
The project is a partnership between the park operators, BC Parks, the Canadian Cave Conservancy, the Vancouver Island Cave Exploration Group and the B.C. Speliological Federation.
The interpretive centre, he said, will have photographs and signage detailing the geological and human history of the site, as well as of the people who first discovered and developed the caves and some of the old gear they used.
“The only way you got this in the past was to go on a guided tour with us,” Varela said. “We’re making information more accessible to park visitors and making it a little more appealing for those who do not want to go inside a cave.”
The theatre, he added, will show a short presentation that gives the history of the caves and how they were formed, as well as the value of caves and why they need to be protected.
“What we are doing is copying what a state park in Hawaii did,” he said. “They had a reef that was being demolished by snorkelers and they required snorkelers to go through a five-minute movie on how to protect a reef before they could go out to it.”
Like the reef, he said, the Horne Lake caves are continuing to degrade.
“The problem with having the caves open to the public is that damage is not slowing down,” Varela said. “They are still being spray painted and littered with beer bottles during after hours use. If this was Cathedral Grove and people were hacking off branches and pulling off the bark, the Parks branch would stop it, even if it meant fencing off the entire grove. Because the caves are underground however, you don’t see the damage.”
Damage to cave systems is not unique to Horne Lake, he added, noting that of the 11 caves discovered in the Victoria area, only two remain. The rest have been paved over, filled in or, in at least one instance, blown up. That’s too bad, he said, because caves are far more important than many realize.
“Most people think caves are just dark places where bad things happen,” he said. “In reality they are actually watersheds.
Although the interpretive centre officially opened today (Friday, June 24), Varela said the theatre portion won’t likely be completed until some time in July.
“Right now it looks like a portable classroom, up on blocks, ugly as sin,” he said. “We’re going to have a soft opening on Friday — with only the interpretation half the building open. The theatre will be open in another 10 days.”