If you have ever visited Florida Caverns State Park, you have probably taken a cave tour.

Florida Caverns Gift Shop owners, Robert “Bob” DeGroot, and Tony and Brenda Shirah, are the experts in cave tours for the park. Originally from Saint Petersburg, DeGroot moved his family to live at the Florida Caverns State Park in 1976, when he became park manager. His daughter, Brenda, grew up in the park, and left for about 20 years, while she was in the Air Force. After her return, DeGroot, Brenda and her husband, Tony, began running the Florida Caverns Gift Shop.

People travel from around the country to visit the beautiful caves located within the park and the team is eager to lead the way safely. Visitors are able to view a movie in the museum for a unique park experience prior to taking a guided tour. Along with regularly scheduled tours, “VIP” cave tours and “Flashlight” night tours are available by appointment.

The tours also provide natural and historical facts, since much of the area around the cave was home to Native Americans. Brenda explained that the area at the cave exit is “where Native Americans gathered mud to make their pottery.” Brenda also suggested that the parking area “may have been where the teepees were located.”

Over the last year, Brenda and the other owners have been working on making the cave safer for visitors. Guides undergo intense scenario training and always carry flashlights in the event of power outages. “If at any time a guest needs assistance, the guides are happy to assist,” explained Brenda. In addition to guiding the tours, management has provided colored lights and hand rails to prevent falls. Brenda added, “Safety for our employees and guests is our number one priority.”

The trio manages rental of canoes and kayaks for upstream travel in the park. Brenda described how the team enjoys leading nature walks. She was recently pleased to lead “Operation Purple Nature Walk,” which was for children whose “parents are at war or have passed away at war.” “We also have weddings three or four times a year,” added Brenda.

The gift shop features snacks and souvenirs such as items handmade by the Muscogee (Creek) Tribe. “Our number one buyers are fifth grade students, who like the eagle call whistles,” clarified Brenda. She went on to identify the best-selling item as “No Gnats,” a DEET-free insect repellent.

Brenda plans to have additional tours in the future, such as Halloween tours with blacklights, glow-in-the-dark t-shirts and tour guides dressed up as characters. She also is working toward weeklong summer camps.

What an excellent opportunity to step away from life’s pressures, enjoy nature and learn about area history. Visit their new website at www.floridacavernsgiftshop.com for prices, services and hours of operation.

Shop locally, support Marianna businesses, and visit the City of Marianna’s website, www.mariannafl.city/335/New-Businesses-and-Other-Community-News, to learn more about new businesses.

Kay Dennis, MBA, MPA, A.I.C.P., is the director of Municipal Development for the City of Marianna.

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