"What I want folks to understand is, we do visitor protection as rangers. We try to make the park as safe as possible," said Wiley. "If we catch you digging ginseng, we are going to arrest you and if you are speeding through the park, we are going to write you a ticket."
The park rangers of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park have many roles. Wiley says most everyone assumes the rangers are out in the forest doing what most rangers do. He said his rangers would much rather be doing those typical ranger activities, than using radar on 25E to catch speeders.
When the tunnel opened in 1996, the park gained jurisdiction by federal mandates to patrol the roads that run through the park, including the stretch of 25E on both sides of the tunnel. The other stretch of road the park patrols runs just short of Boone's BP store on U.S. Highway 58 in Virginia.
Wiley said the park dramatically stepped up patrol after a wreck in the northbound lane killed a local high school student, Josh Fee, in August of last year. That accident was the first fatality since the tunnel had opened.
And just over a week ago, that stretch of road coming toward the tunnel was the scene of another accident which claimed the life of Linda Miracle.
"One fatality is a lot and one death is too much," said Wiley. "I was really spooked because the wreck we had last week was almost identical to the one that killed Josh. Both of those wrecks started within fifteen feet of each other."
What happens that causes these accidents? Wiley said motorists come into the curve as they approach the tunnel in the left hand lane. A vehicle can easily drift off onto the left hand shoulder. Once that happens, the driver overcorrects to the right, then overcorrects back to the left, hanging the tires on the edge of the road, causing the vehicle to roll.
"We have several near misses, as far as lay downs or skid marks, and we could easily average a wreck every one to two weeks" said Wiley. "Two fatalities in ten years may not be a bad record for some, but it's too much and I'm not satisfied. There may not be anything we (the rangers) can do but we are not going to not try."
Natasha Douglas is a Staff Writer for the Daily News. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series about increased patrols in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park