Skyline Drive stretch reopens following rock slide

These boulders fell on Skyline Drive at Mary's Rock Tunnel last week. Park crews moved them, but another large boulder fell and the park temporarily closed the road for an inspection. The road is now open. Courtesy photo by Shenandoah National Park

A 10-mile stretch of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park has been reopened following a rock fall that occurred within the last week and a half.

Park superintendent Jim Northup explained that the initial rock fall happened 10 days ago at the Mary’s Rock Tunnel near the Thorton Gap entrance of the highway.

The 10-mile stretch from Panorama to Skyland was closed Monday evening, Northup said, in order to keep visitors away from the tunnel.

“We needed a little bit of time to have some experts from the Federal Highway Administration come out and assess the situation,” Northup said, adding that park officials met Tuesday morning and “see no further imminent threat of rock fall at that location.”

According to Northup, rock falls during the springtime are not uncommon on mountain roads such as Skyline Drive.

“In the wintertime, we get a lot of ice build-up around the entrances to those tunnels … and it is not uncommon at all for us to have some kind of rock fall, not only at the tunnel, but at other locations,” Northup said.

At the same time, Northup noted that this particular rock fall was “larger than normal” with “several tons of rock” falling along the southern end of the Mary’s Rock Tunnel on March 18.

“Our maintenance and roads crew went up and assessed the situation. We did not see any reason to close the road and we did not see any additional rock that was going to obviously fall,” Northup said.

Park crews were able to clear the road of that rock “within a couple of hours,” Northup said.

However, Northup added that on Saturday, a single large rock fell onto the road.

“It didn’t hurt anybody, but it did land in the middle of the road. So that caused us enough [concern] that we decided to close the road yesterday afternoon,” Northup said.

He said that park officials and federal highway crews took a “close look” at the rock face this morning before deciding that it was safe to reopen the road. “We didn’t find anything that would warrant keeping the road closed.”

At 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, the park announced via Twitter “the entire length of Skyline Drive” was reopened.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com