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New Life for a Very Old Tunnel: Exploring Blue Ridge Tunnel

After four years of work clearing rockslides and underbrush, the original Blue Ridge Tunnel opened for visitors in November 2020. This view of the east portal was taken April 7, 2021. A well-groomed 0.6 mile long gravel level trail leads from the trailhead parking lot at Afton to the east portal.

New Life for a Very Old Tunnel: Exploring Blue Ridge Tunnel

August 2021By Alex Mayes/photos by the author

Historic Blue Ridge Tunnel beneath Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia is now a public park administered by the Nelson County Parks and Recreation Department. Visitors can hike to and through the tunnel on new paths from a parking lot at Afton to the east portal, or to the west portal from a parking lot a mile west of Afton on U.S. Route 250. Constructed between 1849 and 1859, the 4,237-foot long tunnel was built to provide a crossing of the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Blue Ridge Railroad into the Shenandoah Valley.

Early planners knew that construction of the tunnel would be a difficult challenge, so they enlisted renowned French engineer Claudius Crozet to design and oversee the project. One of the major tasks was to blast through long stretches of solid rock, which was done with black powder, since dynamite had not yet been invented. There were 189 recorded deaths during its construction, including women and children from the cholera epidemic in 1854. Like all tunnels constructed during this era, its bore was of small diameter and later became obsolete as the size of locomotives and railcars increased…

August 2021Read the rest of this article in the August 2021 issue of Railpace Newsmagazine. Subscribe today!

This article was posted on: July 26, 2021