Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is home to one of the largest known limestone caverns in the Northwest. The 160-acre site, located in Jefferson County, Montana, was transferred to the state of Montana back in 1937 and was formally dedicated as a state park in 1941. The most notable attraction at the park is guided tours of the caverns, which wind through miles of underground caves and tunnels filled with impressive cave formations.
For 80 years visitors have toured the cave in the yellow hue of incandescent lights. Those lights are generated by heating a filament within the bulb and they’ve been around for 100 years. They’re very inefficient, converting less than 5% of energy used into visible light. The outdated lighting produced poor illumination within the cave and was becoming a safety concern for visitors and cave life alike.
The caverns are a great example of a living cave ecosystem. Visitors can observe a variety of unique life, including blind and albino spiders, springtails and harvestmen, big-eared bats and bushy-tail rats. In fact, the Townsend big-eared bats are a relatively rare species and Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is the only place in Montana where the public can view a maternity colony of these bats. Lighting in the cave is just as important to the ecosystem as it is for humans and updating the incandescent bulbs would lessen the need for a continual cleaning process that must be maintained for the caves to continue to thrive as a viable ecological community.
A massive lighting renovation began in 2007 and the state has been working on updating all the lighting in the cavern to LEDs which included the replacement of the handrailing throughout the cave. LEDs, or light emitting diodes, produce light approximately 90% more efficiently than incandescent bulbs and work by passing an electrical current through a microchip to illuminate the tiny light sources. Not only does LED lighting provide the cave with approximately 60% savings on the electrical and maintenance bill, but they also produce less heat which doesn’t dry out the cave. Visitors now see the cave in a whole “new light”.
One of the major driving factors of the renovation in the caverns was to create a safer tour experience. Proper illumination was the main goal of the renovation due to the challenge visitors face of having to adjust to the darkness of the cave and the existing poor pathway lighting. Wagner Lumenpod® 28 illuminated handrail system solved this problem. Not only does the new handrail design by Wagner improve visitor safety by locating the railing at appropriate heights, it also effectively illuminates an uneven walking surface and addresses the safety concerns for cave personnel and visitors.
Before the project could begin, samples of Wagner’s Lumenpod 28 had to be provided for approval by park personnel, designers, and the DNR. This was due to critical performance concerns, including light saturation and uniformity for safety concerns, limiting glare for improved visual comfort and ensuring that the illuminated railing did not detract from the redesigned illumination of the cave’s features. Hand measuring was not going to be practical for a job of this scale. A digital scan was completed in order to provide a three-dimensional model to work with. This proved to be invaluable because there are no straight railing sections on the job; every step is at a different angle and height.
Lumenpod 28 was specifically designed for pathway illumination, proving to be the perfect solution for this application. Lumenpod features the latest LED technology and was designed, engineered, and manufactured in the USA. Its innovative patent pending design features a simplified installation with few connections and components. Wagner was able to create a code compliant lighted handrail system to fit the challenging design of the cave. The railing features warm, white LED pods with excellent color rendering.
Due to the fragile ecosystem of the cave, no welding, grinding, or drilling could be completed inside the cave. This meant all the new railings had to be designed to use the existing mounting holes used by the original railings. Each of the new railing sections could not exceed 10 feet in length and were designed to break down into lower height sections to pass through the more constricted parts of the cave. To complete this challenging task, Wagner designed and fabricated a sophisticated structural strong cam lock connector to ensure a successful installation.
The lighting performance in the cave is spectacular. Wagner’s lights provide safety on pathways and stairs without detracting from the decorative illumination of the spectacular geological formations that draw visitors to the cave from around the world. Visitors will not lose what they love about the cave. The updated lighting systems highlight the exceptional features of the cave and will provide a brand-new experience, as if seeing them for the first time. All of this is done while providing the safety and security needed for your visit.