AFTON, Va. (WHSV) — A tunnel that connects Nelson County and Augusta County is complete after nearly two decades.
Claudius Crozet designed the Blue Ridge Tunnel, which opened in 1858, to allow rail access through Afton Mountain. The 4,273-foot-long tunnel took nearly nine years to construct.
“Claudius Crozet, they went from building canals on the James to building railroad tunnels, to building the railroad... This was sort of the pathway to the west. Jackson in the Civil War took confederate troops through the tunnel,” Nelson County Administrator Steve Carter said.
The tunnel’s rich history is one reason Carter said this tunnel a national treasure. Another reason being its unique structure.
“If you’ve ever seen it, it just captures you, and it captured me immediately,” Carter said.
Carter initiated the restoration of the tunnel 19 years ago, after seeing its potential to bring communities together.
In 2001, Nelson County decided to restore the tunnel, and now it is in its final stages of phase three, which includes finishing the trail to the west portal parking lot.
“We’d make some progress then we’d have setbacks, then we’d make progress, and we hung in there, and now we’re at a point where the project will be realized,” Carter said.
Nelson County Parks and Recreation said funding was the main issue they had to overcome in finishing this project, along with some engineering obstacles.
“We have some trail erosion issues that we’re dealing with, so that is in process, and once we get that completed, we should be able to open to the public,” Claire Richardson, Director of Parks and Rec, said.
She added that Waynesboro also hopes to connect to the trail through Sunset Park, and the tunnel may even be the center point for a regional trail network.
“It’s going to be open soon, not to just people in the Commonwealth, but all over the country and all over the world to come see it, and we really believe that people will do that. It’s just that unique,” Carter said.
County officials are hoping to welcome the public by November, but the trail is currently closed to visitors with signs on either side, saying trespassers will be prosecuted.
According to a press release, Nelson County was assisted by the following major partners: Virginia Department of Transportation, Commonwealth Transportation Board, City of Waynesboro, Woolpert Inc, Fielder’s Choice Enterprises Inc, Whitesell Group, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation.