The Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel in Afton recently received national recognition for its use of funds toward construction and design.
Nelson County Director of Parks and Recreation Claire Richardson presented the award from the Coalition for Recreational Trails to the Nelson County Board of Supervisors during its Feb. 9 meeting, although the county officially received the award in October of last year.
Nelson County was one of only 12 trail projects and programs, and the only one in Virginia, to be named a recipient of the 2020 Tom Petri Recreational Trails Program Annual Achievement Awards.
“We are incredibly thankful and it validates the time and effort spent on this journey,” said Richardson, who has been with the project for roughly three years, in an email.
Restoration of the historic, roughly mile-long railroad tunnel that sits more than 700 feet below the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap was a nearly 20-year endeavor, punctuated by numerous delays. The tunnel originally was constructed between 1849 and 1858 and is part of a larger 2.25 mile-long trail.
In 2007, CSX Railroad donated the abandoned tunnel to Nelson County and the county established the Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation in 2012.
Richardson said all of the nominees for the award had to receive funding through the Recreational Trails Program, an assistance program through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
Nelson County received $425,000 in RTP funds for the Blue Ridge Tunnel project in 2015.
Since its November opening, the tunnel, which spans both Nelson and Augusta counties, has seen more than 30,000 visitors, according to Nelson County Administrator Steve Carter. Thousands of visitors had flocked to the tunnel in the opening 10 days which took place over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It’s been somewhat overwhelming the number of people,” Carter told board members.
Currently, officials are closing out work on phase 3 of the project, with a “significant amount of paperwork” needing to be filed with the Virginia Department of Transportation to formally close the project.
Carter added because of the enormous amount of visitation since the tunnel’s opening, the county is working to install fencing along Depot Lane to prevent parking issues and soon will solicit quotes to expand the eastern parking lot by an additional 25 spaces.
After parking is addressed at the eastern portal, in Afton, officials may then turn their attention to the western portal’s parking lot in Waynesboro.
Limited parking on both ends of the tunnel has been a known issue for county and tunnel foundation officials since not long after it opened to visitors.
Trail projects were honored in various categories stretching across the nation, spanning Georgia, South Carolina, Illinois, Nevada, Texas and Arizona, among others. A trail project in New Hampshire also won the construction and design category according to a news release.
“[A] sincere congratulations to Nelson County staff who worked so hard to make this project happen. Congrats also to all those involved in the actual Construction and Design part of the project- Woolpert Inc, Whitesell Group, Fielder’s Choice Enterprises Inc, VDOT, and many others,” Richardson said while also thanking the tunnel foundation.
More information on the 12 projects can be found at www.rectrails.org.