Travis Wuest was going through the underground paths of Natural Bridge Caverns even before he could walk.
Strapped to his mother’s back in a baby carrier, the now-Vice President of Natural Bridge Caverns recalls growing up at the caverns, helping run the business and work the land with his family.
One of the third-generation owners and operators of Natural Bridge Caverns, Wuest and his older brother, Brad, grew up just south of New Braunfels on their family’s land. About 15 years before Travis made his debut into the world the caverns had been discovered under his grandparents ranch. “The land here has been in our family since 1883, and the home I grew up in is the home my mom still lives in, and it’s actually — my grandfather was actually born in that house,” Wuest said. “When the cave was found, (my grandmother) was a widow, which just makes her story of entrepreneurship here and the risk she took to open the business all that much more amazing.”
As early as he can remember, the caverns were a part of Wuest’s existence.
“I literally grew up here on the ranch and at the cave,” Wuest said. “Our parents worked here full-time and so we were literally raised here at the caverns. Mom would sell tickets at the ticket booth, and she’d set up a playpen and throw us in it while she was selling tickets.”
Wuest recalls working both the land and the business as a kid. Whether he was caring for livestock or helping sell tickets, Wuest said he stayed very involved as a child.
“I grew up (horseback) riding almost everyday and driving the cattle. I was a real cowboy,” Wuest said. “And I remember we had to get a step stool so we could stand behind the counter and actually be tall enough to reach the buttons on the register. It would always amaze customers, they’d be like, ‘Is this kid old enough to be taking my money?’ … and I’d count the change back to them and they’d be like, ‘Wow he got that right.’”
Working the land, Wuest fell in love with Natural Bridge Caverns very early on. As it was his family’s business, the time he spent working was time he got to spend with family.
“From the time Brad and I learned to read well, (our grandmother) would have us open her mail and read her correspondence to her,” Wuest said. “We’d read something to her and she’d ask, ‘Do you understand what that meant?’ and we’d say, ‘No, not really,’ and she’d say, ‘Okay, well let me tell you what that means,’ … so she began teaching us and grooming us (for the business).”
As a teen, when he wasn’t working at the caverns, Wuest raised livestock through FFA. He attended Canyon High School, where he played football as well.
“I guess Brad did (FFA) four years, I did seven — all through middle school and high school,” Wuest said.
The Wuest brothers’ father helped them raise the livestock, which turned out to be a huge blessing, Travis said.
“Turned out to be really fortunate because right after I graduated high school our dad was diagnosed with cancer and he died a couple years later,” Wuest said. “We just look back on that and really glad he made that decision (to help us) and we had that time together as a family.”
Wuest went to Texas A&M, where he received his degree in recreation park and tourism science, knowing he wanted to make Natural Bridge Caverns his life-long career.
“I loved A&M,” Wuest said. “I was class of ’99, graduated in 2000, met my sweetheart kind of there — so Jenny and I, actually first met here in New Braunfels High School, so I married a local girl.”
Wuest and his wife Jenny married in 2005. The couple have three children together — Morgan, 12, Ryan, 10, and Logan, 7.
“They are involved, we put them to work anytime we can and they enjoy working up here,” Wuest said. “It is just recently gotten to the point where we can no longer pay them with Icees and ice cream,” he added with a laugh.
Keeping family first is a priority, Wuest said.
“Every parent has the same struggle, but you’ve got to make them your priority at certain times and try to focus on them,” he said.
Having grown up considering New Braunfels home, and following in his grandmother’s and parent’s footsteps, Wuest had been very involved in New Braunfels.
Wuest served on the chamber board for several years, and served as chairman of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. He’s been on the strategy and steering committee for over a decade, and served as chair of the committee for two years.
“I’ve been involved in a couple of city committees in regards to rivers and river recreation and planning and wayfinding for the city, and we’ve always been active and involved in our church — we joined Oakwood Baptist and have been active members there and trying to give back through them, as well,” Wuest said.
The Wuest family has also been a strong supporter of the Comal County Junior Livestock Association, Travis said.
“And we’ve more recently become involved with the New Braunfels Food Bank in the last couple of years,” he added.
Wuest served as the chairman of the New Braunfels Food Bank advisory board, which he said was a great experience.
“I’m really glad I did. It’s been very rewarding, and it’s an impressive group of folks and they do some awesome work,” Wuest said.
Wuest said his connection to the caverns and land extends to a connection with New Branufels.
“There’s just something about working the land that tends to create a love for it, and so that’s what happened to us. We grew up working the land and working underground as well as above ground and just fell in love,” Wuest said.
For more information about Natural Bridge Caverns, visit www.naturalbridgecaverns.com.