Natural Tunnel State Park

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Natural Tunnel
2013.VA.NaturalTunnelSP.RyanBerkheimer (8339448556).jpg
The Natural Tunnel is still used as a railroad tunnel.
Overview
Location Natural Tunnel State Park, Scott County, Virginia, United States
Coordinates 36°42′11″N 82°44′35″W / 36.703°N 82.743°W / 36.703; -82.743Coordinates: 36°42′11″N 82°44′35″W / 36.703°N 82.743°W / 36.703; -82.743
Operation
Opened 1894
Owner Commonwealth of Virginia
Operator Norfolk Southern Railway
Traffic Coal Haulage
Character Naturally formed limestone cave converted to a railroad tunnel
Technical
Construction 1893
Length 838 feet (255 m)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrified No
Tunnel clearance Portals: 50 feet (15 m)
Max: 80 feet (24 m)

Natural Tunnel State Park is a Virginia state park, centered on the Natural Tunnel, a massive naturally formed cave that is so large it is used as a railroad tunnel. It is located in the Appalachian Mountains near Duffield in Scott County, Virginia.

The Natural tunnel, which is up to 200 feet (61 m) wide and 80 feet (24 m) high,[1] began to form more than a million years ago when groundwater bearing carbonic acid percolated through crevices and slowly dissolved limestone and dolomite bedrock. A small river, which is now called Stock Creek, was diverted underground and it continued to erode the tunnel over many millennia.

The walls of the tunnel show evidence of prehistoric life. Many fossils have been found in the creek bed and in the tunnel walls.[2]

Geology[edit]

The tunnel passes through Purchase Ridge, which is made of the Ordovician Chepultepec Limestone and is near the axis of the Purchase Ridge syncline.[3] It lies between the Clinchport Thrust Fault and the Hunter Valley Thrust Fault, on the Hunter Valley Thrust Sheet.[4] The tunnel itself began its formation in the Pleistocene period.

History[edit]

Although Natural Tunnel State Park was created in 1967 and opened to the public in 1971, the natural tunnel has been a Virginian tourist attraction for more than a century; Daniel Boone is believed to have been the first European to see it in the 18th century. The 41st United States Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan dubbed it the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

A railroad was constructed through the natural tunnel in 1893. The first train, operated by the Virginia & Southwestern Railway Company, passed through the following year. In 1899, the Natural tunnel was purchased by the Tennessee & Carolina & Iron and Steel Company. The railway originally carried passenger trains; today, the line is still open but now run by Norfolk Southern and CSX and is only used to transport coal.[1]

Native American heritage[edit]

It is known that a Cherokee maiden and a Shawnee brave who had been forbidden to marry by their respective tribes, jumped to their deaths from the highest pinnacle above the Natural Tunnel. The place is now known as Lover's Leap.

Park facilities[edit]

There is a 500 metres (1,600 ft) boardwalk that allows disabled visitors to gain access to the natural tunnel.

Park visitors can also camp, swim, picnic and hike. There is a visitors center and naturally formed amphitheaters that are up to 600 feet (180 m) high.

Natural Tunnel State Park Trails[edit]

View from one of the trails
Trail Name Length Difficulty
Tunnel Hill Trail [5] 0.7 miles (1.1 km) Easy/Moderate
Tunnel Trail into Gorge [5] 0.3 miles (0.48 km) Difficult
Lover's Leap Trail [5] 0.4 miles (0.64 km) Moderate
Gorge Ridge Trail [5] 0.5 miles (0.80 km) Moderate
Purchase Ridge Trail [5] 1.1 miles (1.8 km) Difficult
Spring Hollow Trail [5] 0.3 miles (0.48 km) Difficult
Birding and Wildlife Trail [5] 0.7 miles (1.1 km) Moderate

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Tony Scales, Stanley S. Johnson and Craig M. Ashbrook (2009-07-21). Natural Tunnel. 
  2. ^ "Virginia State Parks: Natural Tunnel". 2009-07-21. 
  3. ^ Roadside Geology of Virginia, 1986, Keith Frye, Mountain Press Publishing Co.
  4. ^ Harris, L.D., 1965, The Clinchport thrust fault - a major structural element of the southern Appalachian Mountains: United States Geological Survey, Professional Paper 525-B, scale 1:543000.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Natural Tunnel State Park Trails". 2007-07-28. 

External links[edit]