The Alliance staff members were delighted to get a sneak peak of the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel and new trail back in October as the finishing touches were being put in place for its November 21 grand opening to the public. Boy is it a must-see.
Tunnel entrance from Augusta County. (Photo by Nancy Sorrells)
Inside the tunnel – see the light at the end! (Photo by Nancy Sorrells)
Tunnel entrance from Nelson County. (Photo by Erin Burch)
The tunnel was engineered by Claudius Crozet, a French immigrant who had served as an engineer in Napoleon’s army, and built by enslaved African Americans and Irish immigrants in the 1850s. It functioned as a railroad tunnel from 1858 to 1944 and was instrumental in the Civil War. When modern engines no longer fit through the tunnel, a new adjacent tunnel was built. After rail traffic through the tunnel ceased, two cement bulkhead barriers were built inside the tunnel to store propane. Although the venture failed, the bulkheads created a barrier to walking through the length of the tunnel and have now been removed.
Trailhead sign in Afton. (Photo by Erin Burch)
Trail to tunnel from Afton. (Photo by Nancy Sorrells)
Brick marking Governor Northam’s September dedication. (Photo by Erin Burch)
Restoration efforts for the tunnel began in 2001, and, after committed private and public partnership, it is now open to the public and accessible by an unpaved trail that begins at parking areas in both Augusta County near Waynesboro and Nelson County in Afton. The tunnel is eight-tenths of a mile long and DARK so visitors must bring a light when they visit. As you pass through the tunnel, you’ll see all kinds of engineering feats, some neat water seeps, and maybe even some frogs, salamanders, and bats.
Looking out to Augusta County. (Photo by Nancy Sorrells)
Salamanders on the tunnel wall! (Photo by Nancy Sorrells)
Looking out at Nelson County. (Photo by Nancy Sorrells)
You should definitely see it for yourself, but know that this tunnel is an awe-inspiring achievement, totally worth preserving the history in order to honor its creators, many of whom lost their lives as they blasted through rock 700 feet below the mountaintop. Hopefully generations to come can slowly walk through this new public trail and wonder at the amazing link between nature and humans nestled deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Big thanks to Dwayne from Waynesboro Parks and Recreation for guiding us through the tunnel!
Banner photo: Alliance staff and Dwayne about to embark on their tunnel adventure. Left to right, is Bryce, Dwayne, Kevin, David, Kate, Kim, Nancy and Erin. Chris Anderson is not pictured because she’s behind the camera.