Opening the way

An annual rite of spring is the opening of the Big Savage Tunnel.

Usually the first week in April, this year a mild, dry March allowed the date to be moved two weeks earlier.  That call is made by the Trail Manager and volunteers living in the Meyersdale, PA area who check for ice and conditions at the northwest end.  

Once the date is set, a call goes out to volunteers and they gather at the Deal parking lot. Someone brings a ladder, small sledge hammer, a couple cans of WD-40, and most essentially the key.  Once at the portal a small door on the right side door is opened and people crawl into the damp darkness.  In goes the ladder and with the help of flashlights the various latches are hammered open. 

The first things to open are the two 1/4 arches at the top.  These fold down with the help of a heavy rope through pulleys.  Once the arch is open the large main doors are swung open into the tunnel and latched in place.  

From there a small caravan drives the 3000+ length stopping at the southeast end.  The ladder is raised, latches freed and doors folded open.  When the first quarter arch cracks open light floods into the tunnel pushing the dark to the center.  The second quarter arch brings more light and when the doors slowly swing aside it seems like the whole of spring rushes in.    

Usually there are cyclists patiently waiting outside the doors wanting to be the first riders of the season to traverse the tunnel.  They have to wait a few moments for the vehicles to drive out and turn around, and the lights to be activated. 

The need to close the tunnel is due to the extreme weather on big Savage Mountain.  Water is constantly draining out of the rock of the mountain and being captured by the liner.  From there it flows through drains to the northwest and southeast.  Some moisture gets into the liner walls and that is the potential problem.

In winter, the freeze and thaw of the water at the portals and just inside the tunnel would quickly break and loosen the tunnel face and liner and undo the restoration work.  Closing the doors traps the perpetual 52 degree warmth of the deep parts of the tube and keeps ice from forming thus preserving the integrity of the structure.  

When the tunnel was first restored the need to "close" the ends was solved by a crude system of wooden boards in vertical channels.  This proved to be clumsy and difficult to remove and replace. Wiemer Metal Fabrication from Somerset was called and they designed and built the custom doors for the Big Savage Tunnel, right down to the black decorative "hinges" on the outside of the doors.  

The doors will remain open through the season, welcoming cyclists into the still cool 52 degree heart of the mountain.  In December the ritual will be repeated, in reverse and winter dark will again fill the Big Savage.

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