Wind Cave National Park welcomed its 7-millionth cave tour visitor last Wednesday, but park officials don’t know exactly who it was – just that it was a member of an East Coast family.
Chief of Interpretation Tom Farrell says Amos and Leah Gibello and their four children purchased their tickets together and shared the 7-millionth visitor honor.
The Gibello family was given a free tour and presented with a Charley Harper print, a blanket, stickers, and a game – all courtesy of the Black Hills Parks and Forests Association, which runs the bookstore at the park.
Amos Gibello says the family had never been out West before and is proud to be the 7-millionth visitor. He hopes another 7-million people come to Wind Cave because it has a lot to offer.
Park Supt Leigh Welling says the “milestone celebrates that people from everywhere are able to experience the wonders of Wind Cave” and that it recognizes the efforts of park staff” to give future generations the same opportunity.
The park has kept a careful count of visitors since rangers gave 2,515 cave tours in 1903 just after it became the country’s 8th national park. Visitation peaked in 1968 at 138,348 visitors and currently averages around 125,000 a year.
Farrell had expected to reach the 7-million mark 2 years ago, but the elevator to the cave broke down in July 2019 – eliminating tours – and the coronavirus pandemic kept Wind Cave from offering tours until earlier this year.
Wind Cave National Park is experiencing heavy visitation this summer, but cave tour tickets are available only on the day of the tour on a first-come, first-served basis. As a result, Farrell says on average, about 200 people a day are waiting when the visitor center opens at 8 AM. The cave’s constant 54-degree temperature is a cool alternative to a hot summer day or inclement weather. The cave is open year-around. For more information about tours and pricing, visit www.nps.gov/wica.