Long a highlight of a trek along a remote reach of the Meadow River in the Gauley River National Recreation Area, the Carnifex Tunnel will close permanently at the end of March after having been deemed irreparably unsafe.
Located along the grade of a former railroad, the tunnel had been used chiefly in recent decades by park staff during emergencies and by hunters in need of access to leases on private land. Federal highway engineers inspected the tunnel in autumn and found its crumbling ceiling unsafe for pedestrian and vehicle traffic, according to the National Park Service.
Superintendent Trish Kicklighter in a press release said alternate accommodation would be provided and that the safety of park visitors and employees was a foremost consideration. “The tunnel is too unsafe for visitors and employees to use," Kicklighter stressed. "Signing alone will not deter people from using the tunnel and visitor and employee safety has to be our highest priority.”
Eventually the park service plans to build a pedestrian and bike trail around the tunnel so the rail grade can provide access along the Meadow River and connect to a proposed rail trail. After the federal inspection last fall, park officials posted signs at the tunnel warning users to “enter at your own risk” while staff investigated options for repair, according to a press release.
Due to the extensive drainage issues and structure fractures, additional damage would continue to occur after rains and cycles of freezing and thawing and did not provide assurance that the tunnel was safe for visitors and park employees.