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Restored Afton tunnel celebrates 100,000 visitors less than a year after opening
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Restored Afton tunnel celebrates 100,000 visitors less than a year after opening

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The Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel in Afton recently passed the mark of seeing 100,000 visitors, less than a year after opening to the public, according to Nelson County’s tourism department.

A news release from the county’s tourism office said Nelson staff recently greeted a group of friends from Charlottesville, Charleston, South Carolina and Northern Virginia, that their party included the 100,000th visitor. The group came to hike the tunnel as well as some early season leaf peeping, enjoy craft beverages and explore the local food scene.

“It was a quick, but much-needed trip for the friends who had not seen one another since early 2020,” the release said.

Nelson County Tourism helped celebrate the milestone with a photo with an Virginia is for Outdoor Lovers sign and providing an overnight stay at Hidden Pond, an Afton vacation rental near the attraction.

“The group was able to extend their stay in Nelson another day and continue to enjoy the bounty that fall in Nelson County offers,” the release said.

Above the tunnel, located at the Rockfish Gap, is the junction of Interstate 64, U.S. 250, the Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail. The single-track tunnel was constructed between 1850 and 1858 and was used regularly until it was replaced by a new tunnel in 1944.

The tunnel is comprised of greenstone, an excessively hard rock and approximately 1,400 feet of bricks; it was bored without using vertical shafts in a parabolic shape with a 17-foot arch to prevent extensive blasting and tunnel cave-ins.

The tunnel was constructed by the Blue Ridge Railroad Company under the direction of the Virginia Board of Public Works.

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 when larger engines could not fit through the tunnel. Restoration efforts began in 2001 and six years later CSX donated the abandoned tunnel to Nelson County.

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