Access to the famous gorge called Watkins Glen has always been an engineering challenge. From the wide and high Main Entrance (called the Entrance Amphitheatre by the Victorian operators of the resort that preceded the state park) the gorge narrows in to Entrance Cascade and allows no passage. Originally, this was overcome by a wooden staircase, which periodically had to be rebuilt following the rigors of gorge winters, rockslides, and floods.
One version of the wooden staircase built to climb around Entrance Cascade. You can make out the bottom of Entrance Cascade in the lower left. Photo by William T. Purviance, courtesy of Wikimedia
Following the creation of Watkins Glen State Park in 1906, the wooden stairs were replaced by a concrete stairway ascending through a tunnel cut in the cliff to the right of the waterfall! The tunnel was cut by drilling through the rock and some limited blasting may have been employed, though this was dangerous due to the risk of de-stabilizing the shale cliffs. Entrance Tunnel was complete by 1908.
The original Entrance Tunnel was reached by a concrete staircase, as seen in this old, colorized postcard. The tunnel climbs and bends 90 degrees to the left to exit onto the right-hand side of Sentry Bridge, which passes over Entrance Cascade below.
The view back into the Entrance Amphitheatre from the original Entrance Tunnel.
A disastrous flood in July, 1935 tore through the glen and ripped out most of the original state park trail structures. The Entrance Tunnel was left stranded above where the stairway had previously stood.
The 1935 flood caused terrible damage in the glen. As you can see in this picture taken right after the torrent had passed, the parking lot had been ripped out and the stairs up to the tunnel were gone (on right), leaving the tunnel suspended on the cliff. Photo courtesy of Montour Falls Library
The damage to the glen was repaired over the next three years, including the construction of a ramp up to the tunnel entrance.
Visitors approach the Entrance Tunnel in the Main Entrance in Watkins Glen State Park. Entrance Cascade is visible in the lower left, and the stone-clad Sentry Bridge passes above. Photo by Tony Ingraham
The staircase inside the tunnel ascends toward Sentry Bridge. Photo by Tony Ingraham
During the past two years, state park stone masons have been building a new approach to the tunnel.
A new staircase has been built from the walk above Glen Creek in the Main Entrance to the Entrance Tunnel. Photo by Tony Ingraham
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