Trains operated by Norfolk Southern at Natural Tunnel State Park haul coal from Knoxville to Southwestern Virginia, and while park visitors can take the chair lift down to the tracks, it's illegal to walk on them.
Except for one day - Saturday's Second Annual Railroad Day - the one time this year the train is shut down. "It's a day where we can offer people something that they don't ordinarily get to do," park manager Robert Chapman says.
Chapman also says the park asked Norfolk Southern to halt for the day. "We have people through the tunnel that actually explain how the tunnel formed and different formations throughout the tunnel," he says.
Park volunteer Tony Scales came up with the idea to celebrate Natural Tunnel and its railroad history. "It's the only day of the year when railroad traffic is shut down through the tunnel and people can walk in and out of the tunnel at their convenience," he says.
He calls Natural Tunnel a marvel that many people don't get to see. "It is 838 feet long, the roof height throughout averages 60 feet, 100 feet wide is the widest point. To give you an idea, it's an acre under a roof," he says.
It was a marvel that hundreds of people enjoyed, listening to guided tours and seeing a staged train up close - including the Easterling family, who have visited every train within 100 miles of their home.
"We really enjoyed it, it's wonderful to have something close to home that we can bring [my son] here to enjoy," father Brad Easterling says.
When asked if the family would want to walk the tracks again, son Lukas Easterling responded, "Yeah! How about tomorrow?" Unfortunately, it's full steam ahead for the trains on Sunday.