The Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail opened for the public Saturday, November 21. The 4,273-foot abandoned train tunnel lies below the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap in Afton. The trail is now open daily from sunrise to sunset, according to Claire Richardson, director of Nelson County Parks and Recreation. Visitors are requested to follow Covid-19 protocol, including maintaining a 6-foot physical distance from non-household members.
Groups are limited to 10 persons, and visitors are asked to not touch anything and to pack out any trash. Richardson says face masks are encouraged and recommends visitors return later if the parking lots are full. Additionally, “Please be cognizant inside the tunnel of other visitors and beware of uneven ground.”
Over the Thanksgiving weekend overflow crowds stretched parking to the roadside of Route 6 at the top of Afton Mountain. Saturday’s opening day saw a steady stream of visitors, included many families on bicycles and walking their dogs on leash. Mary Lyons, author of several books on the history of the Virginia Railroad and the Blue Ridge Tunnel, was available to answer questions and discuss the tunnel’s history at the eastern entrance with her spouse, Paul Collinge, a Tunnel Foundation board member. Lyons has researched the tunnel construction history extensively through the Library of Virginia archives in Richmond.
A trail suitable for walkers and bicyclists approaches the Blue Ridge Tunnel from both east and west. The east trail entrance is considered handicap accessible and primarily flat with views of the active railroad line. One handicap spot is part of the 12-spot parking found at 215 Afton Depot Lane near the Afton Post Office at the top of Afton Mountain. The western trailhead is situated just east of Waynesboro off Route 250 at 483 Three Notched Mountain Highway and has 25 spaces and two oversized areas for small buses. The steep grade of the western trailhead may limit access to those with restricted mobility. A single warning sign noting a steep way ahead is especially cautionary to bicyclists.
More work is planned for the western trail, which will need to close temporarily for some warm weather workdays as soon as possible. Wayne Nolde, Blue Ridge Tunnel Board Director, says some interpretive signs will be added to the western trail similar to what is available at the eastern trail. Nolde also reminds all visitors to make note of the “National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark” marker at the eastern portal.
The trail is just over 2.25 miles one way, with a few mile markers planted along the way. There are no plans to light the tunnel, so for safety, walkers and bikers are urged to bring headlamps and/or flashlights to aid their vision and wear water-resistant walking shoes.