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Nelson County, Blue Ridge Tunnel recognized with award from Virginia Association of Counties
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Nelson County, Blue Ridge Tunnel recognized with award from Virginia Association of Counties

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The Virginia Association of Counties has honored Nelson County with an award for the Blue Ridge Tunnel Rehabilitation and Trail Project program.

The county received its first-ever Best Small County Achievement Award for the project.

Jeremy Bennett, VACO’s director of intergovernmental affairs, congratulated county officials during the Nelson County Board of Supervisors’ Sept. 14 meeting.

Larry Land, retired director of policy development at VACO, said in a document presented to the board the county turned an abandoned railroad tunnel into a regional recreational asset.

Pedestrians and bicyclists regularly explore the 2.25 mile-long trail that includes being able to walk through the restored railroad tunnel that lies more than 700 feet below the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap. The nearly mile-long tunnel was constructed between 1849 and 1858.

The railroad tunnel, designed and engineered by French immigrant Claudius Crozet, a former artillery officer in Napoleon’s army, was built by Irish immigrants and enslaved African American laborers. It opened to railroad traffic on April 13, 1858. At the time of its opening, it was the longest railroad tunnel in North America.

Rail traffic through the tunnel ceased in 1944 when larger engines could not fit through the tunnel. Restoration efforts began in 2001. In 2007, CSX donated the abandoned tunnel to Nelson County.

Bennett congratulated the county for its perseverance in sticking with the project over two decades.

“I’ve been through it three times myself,” Bennett said. “It’s quite the experience.”

— Justin Faulconer

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