If you’ve ever wanted to go deep into the mountains—literally–the just-opened Crozet Tunnel Greenway is the Shenandoah Valley’s newest way to do so.
Nearly 20 years in the making, the new tunnel-trail is 2.25 miles long, running between Waynesboro and Afton. The actual tunnel is 4,700 feet—and no lights are planned so hikers, cyclists, etc. should plan on bringing a headlamp. Expect a bit of dampness, too. The trail cuts through a deep forest resplendent with blooming laurel in the spring.
Originally named the Blue Ridge Tunnel, the rail project was built between 1850 and 1858 and led by French engineer Claudius Crozet, who was also one of the founders of VMI. It was an astonishing engineering feat, hand-dug by Irish laborers and African-American slaves for about one mile. It opened for railroad use in 1858 and, at the time, was the longest tunnel in the United States.
Today it is a historical and unique path open to hikers, cyclists, and wildlife watchers. In time the Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation, hopes to see this project connect to existing local trails and the historic communities on both sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Why Did it Take 20 Years?
Land acquisition takes time.
Maureen Kelley , Director of the Nelson County Economic Development Office, told us, “From the beginning, Nelson County took a long view approach to the project. The property and easements had to be acquired from CSX and adjacent landowners. A completely new and unique appraisal was created to value the abandoned asset to have matching grant funding. Working with federal and state funding agencies such as the Commonwealth Transportation Board is a multi-year process; we received three rounds of funding and were deemed a project splf statewide significance.
“Government procurement and all regulatory compliance had to be rigorously followed,” Kelley continued. “Private and public partnerships were successfully formed throughout the project to assure multi-jurisdictional cooperation and participation.”
We also asked Kelly what makes the project important in today’s world. She said, “The project is extremely important today, as it showcases an engineering wonder, with appeal to lovers of outdoor recreation, history enthusiasts and railroad buffs, wildlife watchers, heritage tourists and Virginia residents. Given the current health crisis, this new tourism/recreation asset gives people another way to enjoy nature in a safe setting.”
Since the hike is just a little over two miles, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to explore nearby attractions. If you want some additional cardio—either hike Waynesboro’s
South River Greenway or paddle the Waynesboro Water Trail. You’ll also find stops along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail to enjoy post-hike refreshment.
Located where the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park converge you will find two access points. The east trail is fully accessible, primarily flat and a 12-spot parking lot can be found at 215 Afton Depot Lane. The western trailhead is situated in Waynesboro at 483 Three Notched Mountain Highway and has 25 spaces and two areas for small buses.
Special Note: We have just learned the western trail and parking lot will be closed for construction the first week of December. Access the trail from the eastern trail and be mindful of the limited parking there.
Banner photo courtesy Jack Looney Photography