Into the Drop Zone By Valeria Quezada Within the beautiful Carlsbad community lays the headquarters of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI), a non-profit government-supported institute. This research facility promotes, conducts, and facilitates various programs in cave and karst research and education. This outstanding program helps promote public education and the protection of different cave and karst landforms. Within in our own community, NCKRI is developing an experimental science center exhibit called the “Drop Zone.” This idea was developed by Education Director Dianne Joop. The NCKRI building was designed with a courtyard that has a training area for vertical roper users. Dianne says, “Many cave explorers and scientist use single rope techniques to access caves with vertical entrances or passageways interior to caves called pits.” This courtyard was designed with local cavers in mind, so they could hone their skill. Dianne worked with a group to formulate different ideas on how to convert that space. Dianne developed the idea to create an outdoor classroom and exhibit as part of the Cave Exploratorium, NCKRI’s science center and museum. This space is being designed with a combination of experiential education principals and interpretation techniques. The concept also models the actual behaviors of vertical cave explorers and scientists, giving everyone the chance to experience physicsin action! Dianne has worked closely with others within in the community. Such as Anna Beason, the City’s Special Projects Coordinator in order to fine tune the idea and develop the Lodger’s Tax Grant Proposal. The City of Carlsbad also offered tremendous support for this project important project. “NCKRI is very proud to have the City as a partner and the efforts and support of current and previous staff have breathed life into this project. City Administrator, John Lowe, Councilman Jason Shirley, and Mayor Dale Janway’s dedication to this project truly brought it from being marks on paper, to a physical exhibit and we could not be more excited,” adds Dianne. It is only fitting that such an addition be beneficial for the community. Carlsbad is home of the Caverns! Caves are a huge part of the network of the culture of this community. “Go Cavemen! The Cave Exploratorium is being developed for our community members to connect with caves in a new way. We love caves and want others too as well, not just because they are fun places to visit, but because of the value they add to the knowledge base of science,” Dianne explains. The Drop Zone is for sure targeted to the adventurous spirits out there, but even if that is not your groove, there are so many other parts of the exhibit to explore that are beneficial and entertaining, such as four interactive panels at the Drop Zone. They are also developing static displays on cave and karst topics. “In the past we have had exhibits on the cave explorer Floyd Collins, Cave Fossils, a cave and karst youth art show, and an international art show. For the opening of the Drop Zone, we plan to have an exhibit called World Class Caves (caves of our hometown),” explains Dianne. The exhibit will showcase caves of this region that are considered world class. It will contain pictures, interviews with the people whom discovered/explored them, and what caving in the Guadalupe Mountains is like. Dianne believes this an amazing way for Carlsbadians to form a new appreciation for where they live and discover what the true treasurers beneath their feet are. The only way into caves are what vertical cavers call a “nylon highway,” the ropes. This exhibit is so unique and entertaining because it will offer visitors the experience of traveling on a nylon highway but in a controlled setting. The exhibit will consist of a 30’ climbing wall and a rappelling platform, as well as four interactive and interpretive exhibits. “We hope our visitors walk away with the knowledge that caves are special places that need continued protection as well as certain skill sets to enter and explore safely,” says Dianne. Their target finish date for the Drop Zone, which is currently under construction, is December 7thof this year. Although, just like other businesses and local entities within in the community, NCKRI is closed to the public due to COVID restrictions. This does delay the opening of the exhibit to the public, but they have already started to develop a community event to celebrate in the future! “We would be remiss if we didn’t say we are disappointed that COVID will delay the opening of the exhibit, but we are using this time to develop a community event to celebrate, the reopening of our community as well as the opening of our Cave Exploratorium’s first permanent exhibit. We anxiously wait for the day when you can come hang with us at the DropZone!!!” At the moment Dianne Joop is also working on a permanent interior exhibition called “Hidden Voyage” for the Cave Exploratorium. Which will also be engaging, interactive, and experiential. The Hidden Voyages is in the quiet phase, but NCKRI hopes that the Drop Zone will spur new opportunities for partnerships and sponsorships for their Cave Exploratorium. The Drop Zone is definitely an exhibit that families, adventurers, and the entire community will enjoy! Be sure to “drop” into the Drop Zone!