Nearly 470 miles of twists and turns through the mountain landscape connect Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia as the scenic road winds its way through 29 counties in the two states. The parkway offers breathtaking views, abundant outdoor recreation, local foods, artisan galleries and wildlife viewing opportunities. Visitors generate more than $2.3 billion every year for local economies, creating jobs and sustaining a high quality of life for nearby residents.

Our Role:  Conserving the Land, Planning for the Future

The Conservation Fund’s efforts to conserve lands along the Blue Ridge Parkway date to 1998, when we helped NPS protect over 8,000 acres of spectacular views, clean waters, and recreational opportunities along the parkway.

Since then we’ve helped NPS acquire an additional 2,986 acres of high-elevation spruce forest at Waterrock Knob, the 16th highest peak in the Eastern United States and a major scenic Parkway destination near Waynesville, Sylva and Cherokee. Together with lands donated by The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, a new 5,300-acre park was created in 2016. Waterrock Knob is an ideal spot to watch a sunrise or a sunset and hike to the top of the summit for majestic 50-mile views of the highest peaks in the Smokies.

“The permanent protection of the land at Waterrock Knob is the realization of the vision crafted in the 1930s by Parkway designers; fulfilled now some 80 years later by committed individuals and organizations”
                                                                           —Mark Woods, Superintendent for the Blue Ridge Parkway 

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Scenic view from Waterrock Knob. Photo by Steve Orr.

We’ve also conserved an additional 1,000 acres in the Campbell Creek watershed to protect drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat for local populations of black bear, elk, deer, native trout and northern flying squirrels. To this date, we have helped protect over 12,000 acres on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

As the parkway celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2010, NPS and the state tourism councils of North Carolina and Virginia turned to our Conservation Leadership Network to help build on the momentum of the anniversary and engage communities along the historic roadway in crafting a vision for the Blue Ridge Parkway’s future.

Working with local partners, we developed and delivered a three-day workshop in Galax, Virginia that engaged representatives from all 29 counties along the Parkway. Our goal was to develop a shared vision for the Parkway as a cohesive and unifying force that thrives on partnership between all surrounding communities and the National Park Service. 

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.

Implementing the Vision

Leaders who attended the workshop convened by our Conservation Leadership Network developed action plans and ideas for the Blue Ridge Parkway’s next 75 years. Projects they are undertaking include:

  • Mapping Parkway and community trails to discover new connections and providing an online map resource for visitors.
  • Exploring the feasibility of developing “cellular hot spots” along the Parkway so smartphone users can access information about the Parkway and its surrounding communities.
  • Participating in a case study by the America’s Byways Resource Center to document how visitors to the Parkway generate dollars and create jobs throughout the region. This information will be used to obtain local and state support for the Parkway, support grant applications, shape land use decisions, target tourism marketing efforts and recruit new investments.

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