Penn’s Cave Inc. CEO Russ Schleiden has been collecting cars for a G scale train since 2000 in hopes to one day put the little locomotives in the visitors center of the cave and wildlife park.
With 30 seats on the train, his vision was turned into a reality for the first time this month when the train was built on 200 feet of track that loops the perimeter of the visitors center.
Marketing director Terri Schleiden said the visitors center, which includes a gift shop and the Cave Café, is the hub of activities at Penn’s Cave. And now, after undergoing renovations, there’s a whole new scene.
“This year we were able to add the G scale train, so when people enter and walk toward the ticket (counter) they can see the train,” Terri Schleiden said. “What’s even more exciting is we commissioned Blair County artist Don Dietz, who has done work for us before, and (painted) a large scale mural … depicting Pennsylvania scenery and landscapes.”
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The mural also includes a backdrop of what the state looks like during each season.
Dietz said the mural idea came from an image people should get when they travel through the commonwealth.
“I’m a native of Pennsylvania and I love nature and wildlife, and I think it’s appropriate if you were riding a train in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Outside the facility are a “Miners Maze” and a 1,600-acre animal park with bears, wolves, elk, deer, bobcats, bison, longhorn cattle, mustangs and bighorn sheep.
The farm, nature and wildlife tours run daily April through November.
The main feature, however, is its tour of the caves, which make the attraction the only water cavern in the country, Schleiden said.
A tour guide takes guests on a 50-minute flat-bottom boat ride of the all-natural limestone cave.
Penn’s Cave opened as a commercial attraction in 1885 before changing ownership several times. Schleiden said it’s been in operation by the same family since the early 1900s.
At a constant 52 degrees year-round, Schleiden said, the cave tours last from February to December.
The park is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and through the month of January. Peak season is between June and August.
“We get very busy during the weekdays in the summer, especially with school field trips at the end of the school year,” Schleiden said. “As we get later in the summer season, we get more tourists.”
Terri Schleiden said she encourages people to take advantage of what’s in their own backyard.
“First of all, its educational, but it’s also entertaining and it’s something that’s a natural attraction,” she said. “You’re not going to find anything anywhere with the natural beauty like this underground. And what most people don’t know is, when you drive through town, you actually drive over part of the cave.”
Other additions to Penn’s Cave came last year when the company expanded its line of gemstones and rocks and its line of clothing and gifts to include plush animals featured at the exhibit, Schleiden said.
There are eight commercial show caves in Pennsylvania, Woodward Cave and Indian and Lincoln caverns, within 40 miles of Penn’s Cave. Woodward also is in the Penns Valley area, Indian Caverns is located in Spruce Creek and Lincoln Caverns is located near Huntingdon.