Tourism and the Underground

In 2006, a number of locals began to kick around the idea of opening up Underground Eureka as a tourism attraction. Although this wasn't a new idea, it was met with much enthusiasm from many who, like me, find the underground to be a delightfully mysterious piece of local history. Others who have extensively explored the area (mostly the storm drain and creek tunnel) suggested that it was too dangerous and that it would be cost prohibitive to open up any part of it to the general public. They're probably right. The idea, however, did not die.

In August 2007, a local news website called ES FOLK reported that the Mayor of Eureka Springs was investigating Underground Eureka as part of a tourism initiative. Then in November of that same year, the Lovely County Citizen presented a front page article quoting some of the info presented on my site and reported that the Eureka Springs City Council had approved the mayor's request to "appropriate $12,000 of 'turnback money' to pay the city's half of a project feasibility study" for opening up the underground sidewalk tunnels and original storefronts for tourism and extended business space.

In December of 2007, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism approved a matching grant of $12,213 for a feasibility study for Underground Eureka. According to the press release, "If the project proves to be economically feasible, we'll have a new soft adventure multi-generational attraction similar to underground Seattle." The study had to be completed by April 21, 2008 and submitted to the state within a month. I spoke with the mayor and she stated that once the study was complete and necessary funding was in place, the city would also be able to further investigate the possibility of opening up "the old storefronts", provided that the building owners were receptive to the idea.

The Morning News reported in April 2008 that the feasibility study was going well, and that students from the Walton College of Business had been in contact with the mayor and business community mogul John Cross, touring the proposed underground sidewalk and basement areas.

In August of 2008, I hadn't heard any updates on the project, so I submitted an FOIA request and received an 80-page report indicating that the study was complete and had found that opening the areas below the sidewalk is NOT feasible. As an alternative, it suggested that building owners form an "Underground Eureka Association" and open their own sections of the underground areas adjacent to their buildings, to be included as part of an "Underground Trail" walking tour. Another suggestion involved opening up the storm drain system and Leatherwood Creek tunnel running under Main Street as part of a "wild tour". The report indicated that other grants may be applicable to pursue the latter idea.

Finally, in March 2010, the Eureka Springs Downtown Network announced the opening of an Underground Tour in Eureka Springs. You can visit this page for more information, and a short review.

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Eureka Springs Tunnel Explorer
Photo Courtesy of Underground Ozarks