Dinner Works to Give New Life to Historic Blue Ridge Tunnel

By: Ruth Morton Email
By: Ruth Morton Email

September 20, 2013

A fundraiser worked to give a historic train tunnel new life.

The Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation (CCBRTF) held "Laying Tracks, Forging the Crozet Tunnel Greenway" on Friday night. The blue jeans, boots, and black tie event featured a dinner, Irish music, and a silent auction to benefit the Blue Ridge Tunnel.

The Blue Ridge Tunnel is a railroad tunnel built during the construction of the Blue Ridge Railroad in the 1850's. The Blue Ridge Tunnel is also known as the Crozet Tunnel after its engineer and the town of Crozet's namesake, Claudius Crozet. In 1944, the C&O Railroad built a larger tunnel to replace it. It stretches about 4/5 of a mile.

"Since 1944, it has been sitting unused and abandoned," said Allen Hale, President of the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation and member of Nelson County's Board of Supervisors. "A lot of people know about it but it's sort of been a hidden treasure there for many, many years.

Nelson County now owns the tunnel. In 2007, CSX, the successor to the C&O railway, deeded the tunnel to the county.

The foundation hopes to turn the tunnel into a walking and biking path for the public.

The tunnel is not currently open to the public for safety reasons. The bricks on the Western portion and crossing of the railroad tracks currently still used both pose hazards.

In addition to Hale, local leaders from Albemarle, Augusta, and Waynesboro and members of the public comprise CCBRTF. Ann Mallek and Jeff Moore, chair of the board of supervisors for Albemarle and Augusta County, respectively, Dwayne Jones Waynesboro's Director of Parks and Rec are all members.

"It really is an effort to have a public private partnership," said Hale.

The group has received funding for the first phase of the project from VDOT. The money, $749,000, is from the Federal Transportation Enhancement money that the Commonwealth Transportation Board awards each year to various parts of Virginia. With these funds, Allen says the group will build the trail on the East side of the tunnel, at Afton and where Route 6 crosses the railroad. The 3,400 ft. trail will run to the entrance to the tunnel and about 700 feet into the tunnel, allowing hikers and bikers access to and inside.

"The plan is to have it become a 'rails to trails' project," said Hale.

This would allow tunnel access it from the east side for bikes and pedestrians. On the west side, there will be access in Augusta County either from 250 or Waynesboro. The group eventually wants to have a connection to the Appalachian Trail.

"It's at a very key junction in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Interstate 64 crossing the mountains, US 250, end of the Skyline Drive, beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, the bicycle 76 route, very key location."

The money does not cover projects outside of building the trail, such as gates to secure the tunnel's West end until safety issues can be taken care of, and publishing a book about the Irish and African American workers who built the tunnel.

Friday night's dinner gathered private supporters to help fund those projects.

"It will give us a flexibility to do some of those things that we don't otherwise have funding for. And it's to involve a wider public in our project," said Hale. "Also, to educate people on what the project is doing. Where we are, what we plan to do."

Hale updated people on the tunnel's progress with a slideshow at the end of dinner.

The event took place at Veritas Vineyards and Winery in Nelson County. Veritas donated all costs for the dinner and venue to the foundation.

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