May 9th, 4:06pm
We visited Tuckaleechee Caverns on Wednesday, in Townsend, TN, on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the caverns lay just underbelly of the hills below.
Our tour guide Terry grew up in the region, and first started working in the caverns at 16. After high school, he moved to work in oil fields and fisheries in Louisiana, only to return to purchase a spring in Townsend, to open up his very own trout farm and restaurant. After 30 years of operation, he sold the business and retired, to spend more time fishing. So, how did Terry end up working back in the caverns? Just a few years later, Terry was diagnosed with diabetes, and was instructed to take the insulin needle. Terry asked the doctor, if he could keep his blood sugar low for the next 30 days, if he could avoid using the needle. Remembering the caverns of his youth, now owned by his friends he grew up with, he signed up to lead 3 tours/day, walking 15 miles per week. After a month, Terry’s check-up came back normal, and he continues to lead tours to meet people from all over the world, and to maintain his health.
His enthusiasm for the geology and history of the Tuckaleechee Caverns spread to us as he led our group. Tennesee has the highest number of caverns of any state in the country - though he was quick to point out what made these caverns one-of-a-kind. We were guided through passageways and giant cavern rooms - the largest being 283 feet wide, just 17 feet short of a football field - and a 200’ tall double waterfall that feeds the stream that runs throughout the cave. The cave stays a constant 58 degrees year round, and is the location of a very sensitive and seismic activity meter, installed by the U.S. military decades ago. ca