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UVA Students Present Plans to Preserve Blue Ridge Tunnel - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

UVA Students Present Plans to Preserve Blue Ridge Tunnel

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Planners on both sides of the Blue Ridge are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. They're inspired by work students at the University of Virginia have done to reopen a historic railroad passage through the mountain.

Wednesday, those students presented plans to preserve the Blue Ridge Tunnel, engineered by Claudius Crozet and opened in 1858.  A nonprofit foundation has worked for a decade to reopen the passage between Nelson and Augusta counties.  Now, they have a fresh vision for the tunnel's future.

University of Virginia architecture master's student Michael Goddard and his classmates presented plans to preserve the Blue Ridge Tunnel.

"The tunnel is a unique experience in a lot of ways," Goddard said.  "There's a mood the tunnel creates in its darkness and cave-like qualities.  So, we wanted to make sure that was still in place when we finished the design work."

He designed a pavilion where hikers and locals can exchange those tunnel experiences.  It's the culmination of a semester's worth of work in preservation planning class.

UVA architecture professor Rich Collins said, "When they're inspired by something real, something local, something with many dimensions, they always do better."

The class invited members of a nonprofit foundation working to reopen the historic railroad tunnel as a regional trail through Afton Mountain.  Landowners and local planners reviewed the students' visions.

"Really new ideas and people are going ‘yeah'," Collins said.  "These are people who have been working in the trenches, so to speak, for years trying to make this known and recognized and hopefully enriched and protected."

Emily Harper is leading the project on the Nelson County end.  She said, "It always helps to have fresh ideas and look at it, and see what other people think could be done."

Students estimate tunnel tourism would generate $290,000 a year for the communities it connects.  Master's student Madeleine Hawks created an interactive trail, using signs connected to smartphones, to bring the tunnel's history to life for those visitors.

Hawks said, "Just giving enough information that visitors can continue to be creative thinking about the Irish labor and ways in which it relates to their own lives today."

Hawks hopes her class's work will spark progress to reopen the tunnel.  She said, "I do think they're a lot closer to achieving that goal."

The students say construction could start as soon as next spring, with the tunnel reopening by September 2014.  All of that depends on funding.  The tunnel project still needs about $3 million.

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