Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway near Rough Ridge Overlook.
As one of the most visited units of the National Park Service (NPS), the Blue Ridge Parkway welcomes over 17 million visitors each year. Travelers enjoy the parkway’s nearly 470 miles of twists and turns through the mountain landscape connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
In addition to the public lands along the parkway, the road travels through 29 counties. The scenic vistas, recreational opportunities, local foods, artisan galleries and country charm all provide a memorable Appalachian experience for visitors both on and off of the parkway. It is these unique contributions that drive the local economies, tourism generates more than $2.3 billion in tourism dollars, creates jobs and sustains a high quality of life for residents.
In 2012, we helped conserve 1,500 acres of parkland and scenery along a 20-mile stretch in Haywood County, North Carolina. Back in 1998 we helped NPS protect 7,000 acres of spectacular views, clean waters, and recreational opportunities.
Our Conservation Leadership Network Helps Plan For The Future
In 2010, hundreds of visitors attended events throughout the region to celebrate the parkway’s 75th anniversary. As part of the anniversary celebration, the NPS, local county governments, business owners and citizens came together to think about and discuss what’s needed to sustain the region for the next 75 years and beyond.
Tremendous progress was made during these 75th anniversary planning sessions and NPS seized the opportunity to build on this momentum. In 2011, representatives from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Virginia and North Carolina tourism councils contacted The Conservation Fund for its expertise in assisting communities to capture this momentum and put it into action.
Group discussions identified several major areas for improvement along the parkway, improvements that could only be accomplished through partnership between NPS and the surrounding communities. As a result, the group put together a brief report with recommendations that captured the ideas of these community strategy sessions. The report focused on improvements to way-showing, regional marketing, communication and cultural and natural resource protection.
The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network worked with local partners to develop and deliver a three-day workshop in Galax, Virginia that focused on engaging representatives from all 29 counties along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The workshop provided participants with national and local perspectives for developing the Blue Ridge Parkway into a cohesive regional identity that thrives on partnership between all surrounding communities and the National Park Service. There were also discussions about the benefits and opportunities of sustainable tourism and the value of conservation.
The workshop provided local leaders with opportunities to build off of the 75th anniversary recommendations report through the development of action plans that map out the next steps for project implementation. Groups are moving forward with their ideas of creating a series of monthly community meetings across the region with Parkway staff, mapping Parkway and community trails to discover new connections and provide an online map resource for visitors, and exploring the feasibility of developing “cellular hot spots” along the Parkway so smartphone users can access way-showing information about the Parkway and the surrounding communities.
As an initial result of the workshop, the Blue Ridge Parkway region has been selected by the America’s Byways Resource Center Scenic Byways to be a national case study for its new economic impact tool. The Blue Ridge Parkway plans to share the case study information with local communities to show how visitors to the parkway generate dollars and create jobs throughout the region. This important information can be used to obtain local and state support for byways, support grant applications, shape land use decisions, target tourism marketing efforts, and recruit new investments along the byway.
The workshop proved to be a great opportunity for representatives throughout the region to come together and forge new partnerships that created a sense of regional connectivity. It’s true, a visitor rarely visits just a county or stops their travels at a town border. The Blue Ridge Parkway and its surrounding communities recognize this and are poised to become a regional destination beyond the limits of the parkway. The steps that these leaders are making today to strengthen partnerships and plan for the future will ensure the stewardship and conservation of the parkway and its scenic vistas, and sustain the economies and character of the surrounding local communities for the next 75 years and beyond.