If Dannevirke's iconic Fantasy Cave is to survive it needs volunteers and support from local businesses, Cave Dweller Liz Edwards says.
"None of us are getting any younger and so we are starting to look at how we operate and how we survive," Edwards said.
The Fantasy Cave is credited with injecting more than $1 million into Dannevirke's economy and in 2008 a record 17,000 people visited the cave, many of them out-of-towners.
Since then numbers have remained consistent, with about 10,000 visiting each year, until 2016 when numbers began to decline.
"The decrease in numbers has been gradual, but it's continuing," Edwards said.
Attendance figures show that in 2018 visitor numbers were down to 7722.
The decline in visitor numbers is partially due to the closure of the Manawatu Gorge road and the price of hiring buses, Edwards believes.
"We know we bring visitors to Dannevirke and people who come through the cave go on to spend at cafes and shops in town," Edwards said.
"We also know that many picnic at the Domain and use other attractions such as the AMP Wai Splash pools."
Dannevirke Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Sue Berry has told the Dannevirke News the organisation was happy to step up and give whatever support was needed.
"The Fantasy Cave is a valuable tourism drawcard to our town," she said.
"We really have to step in and help by supporting them because I'd really, really hate for them to fall by the wayside."
Berry said she admired the volunteers and the contribution they make to the cave, but accepts, as with many volunteer groups, it's the older people making the commitment.
"The Fantasy Cave is an icon for our town and is often the first thing out-of-towners from Wellington and Auckland mention when they refer to Dannevirke," she said.
But often it's locals who don't realise what the Fantasy Cave has to offer or what it adds to our town.
"We have a lot of international and national visitors, but not so many locals," Edwards said.
"However, we recently had locals visit and they said they couldn't believe what they were seeing. They had no idea what we had here."
Manned by a dedicated group of volunteers known as Cave Dwellers, the Fantasy Cave blossomed from an original idea by members of the Dannevirke Art Society, 29 years ago, initially supported by the then Dannevirke Enterprise Trust.
The Cave Dwellers have been an upcycling, fancy dress-making team from day one but they need support.
The Fantasy Cave will represent Tararua at the national Trustpower Community Volunteer awards in Tauranga at the end of March, after being named the supreme winners for our district.