Blue Ridge Parkway Facts

In Context: Comparing the Blue Ridge Parkway to other National Parks

  • Visitation to the Blue Ridge Parkway is more than twice the combined visitation to Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon; while the annual operating budget of the Blue Ridge Parkway is approximately only half of each.
  • Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon each generate more than $4 million per year in entrance fees, while the Blue Ridge Parkway generates none because it's free for public to enjoy the scenic route.

Historical Facts

  • Establishing Legislation: The act establishing the Blue Ridge Parkway under the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, passed on June 30, 1936. Boundary adjustments were made on June 30, 1961, and October 9, 1968.
  • Initial Funding: Initial construction funding was allocated under the authority of the National Industrial Recovery Act (June 16, 1933).

Historical Dates

compiled by Anne Mitchell Whisnant, author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History. Please credit the author. Contact the author.

August 1933 FDR visits CCC camps in the Shenandoah National Park with Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes and Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd.  Someone suggests extending the new Skyline Drive southward to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
28 September 1933 “Byrd Outlines Park Road Plan.”  First mention of the future Blue Ridge Parkway project in the Asheville Citizen
17 October 1933 Representatives from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia meet in the office of Senator Harry Byrd to discuss the proposed parkway to connect Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park
16 November 1933 Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes approves the future Blue Ridge Parkway for federal funding under the Public Works Administration
5-7 February 1934 First hearings held in Washington to consider Parkway route
13 June 1934 “Radcliffe Committee” appointed by Secretary Ickes to decide Parkway route recommends selection of the Tennesse-favored route (the Virginia-North Carolina-Tennessee route) instead of the Virginia-North Carolina route favored by North Carolinians
19 July 1934 Secretary Ickes approves portions of the Parkway route from Shenandoah National Park to the James River and from Adney Gap to Blowing Rock; announces he has postponed making a decision on the portion south of Blowing Rock
18 September 1934 Secretary Ickes holds hearing in Washington to consider merits of the Tennessee- and North Carolina-favored routes for the Parkway from Blowing Rock to the Great Smoky Mountains
10 November 1934 Secretary Ickes announces selection of the North Carolina-favored route for the Parkway
11 September 1935 Construction begins on the Blue Ridge Parkway
16 September 1935 100 men continue to move machinery and begin clearing the right-of-way at Low Gap, NC
19 September 1935 According to a letter two days later from J.P. Dodge, Senior Claim Adjuster for the North Carolina Highway Commission to the Chair of the Highway Commission, the “first breaking of ground on the first project of the Shenandoah- Great Smoky Mountains National Parkway” took place this day at Low Gap, NC
30 June 1936 Federal statute names parkway the “Blue Ridge Parkway” and places it under control of the National Park Service
1939 The first completed sectiopn of the Parkway, between NC 18 and US21 opens to traffic
1942 150 miles of Parkway are open. First concessions opens at Cumberland Knob.
1946 Parkway visitation tops 1 million
1949 Parkway opens concessions at Bluffs, area renamed later that year for Congressman Doughton
1952 Craggy transferred to NPS from USFS. Linville Falls acquired
1956 “Mission 66″ launched; Parkway gets major boost
1965 Final section of Parkway in Virginia dedicated
1966 All of Parkway in N.C complete except for Grandftaher corridor
1967 Parkway near Asheville opened to public
1977 Ground broken for Folk Art Center
1978 Construction begins on Linn Cove Viaduct
1983 Linn Cove Viaduct complete
11 September 1987 Final section of Parkway dedicated
1988 Parkway visitation tops 25 million
2000 Parkway dedicates new headquarters in Asheville
2001 Blue Ridge Music Center dedicated
2008 Parkway Visitor Center opens in Asheville

Purposes of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Purpose statements from Parkway management documents describe the reasons for establishing Blue Ridge Parkway, as noted in the Parkway’s legislative history and the National Park Service’s Organic Act.

  • Connect Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks by way of a “national rural parkway” — a destination and recreational motor roadthat passes through a variety of scenic ridge, mountainside, and pastoral farm landscapes.
  • Conserve the scenery and preserve the natural and cultural resources of the parkway’s designed and natural areas.
  • Provide for public enjoyment and understanding of the natural resources and cultural heritage of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains.
  • Provide opportunities for high quality scenic and recreational experiences along the Blue Ridge Parkway and within the corridor through which it

Significance of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Significance statements from Parkway management documents describe the {arkway resources and values that are important enough to warrant national designation. They describe the Blue Ridge Parkway’s distinctiveness and help to place it in its regional and national context.

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway was the first national rural parkway to be conceived, designed, and constructed for a leisure-type driving experience. Its varied topography and numerous vista points offer easy public access to spectacular views of central and southern Appalachian rural landscapes and forested mountains.
  • As an example of pre– and post–World War II automotive rural parkway design, the Blue Ridge Parkway retains the greatest degree of integrity of any parkway in the United States. The parkway is further recognized throughout the world as an international example of landscape and engineering design achievements with a roadway that lies easily on the land and blends into the landscape.
  • The parkway is the highest and longest continuous route in the Appalachian area. Along its 469-mile length, the parkway provides scenic access to crests and ridges of five major ranges within the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, encompassing geographic and vegetative zones that range from 649 feet at James River in Virginia to 6,047 feet at Richland Balsam in North Carolina.
  • The parkway’s uninterrupted corridor facilitates the protection of a diverse range of flora and fauna, including rare and endangered plant and animal species and globally imperiled natural communities.
  • The parkway preserves and displays cultural landscapes and historic architecture characteristic of the central and southern Appalachian highlands.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway is a primary catalyst for promoting regional travel and tourism, serving as a unifying element for 29 counties through which it passes, engendering a shared regional identity, providing a common link of interest, and being a major contributor to regional economic vitality.

Boundary features

  • Ancestral home to the Cherokee Indians Boundary state park has the highest mountain east of the Rockies (Mount Mitchell) Boundary national forest has the deepest gorge in eastern America (Linville Gorge) Headwaters to the oldest river in North America (New River) Boundary with globally recognized nature preserve (Grandfather Mountain International Biosphere Reserve) Boundary national forest site of the first forestry school in America (Cradle of Forestry, Biltmore Forestry School, 1898-1913)
  • Boundary with the largest home in America (Biltmore House)

Natural Resources

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most biodiverse parks in the entire National Park System – Total vascular plants and vertebrates by park: Blue Ridge Parkway, 2074; Great Smoky Mountains NP, 2073; Big South Fork Recreation Area, 1472; Olympic NP, 1531; Yellowstone NP, 1678 (2007 data source, National Park Service, Appalachian Highlands Inventory and Monitoring Network)
  • The Blue Ridge Parjway supports a substantial number of federally listed threatened and endangered rare species: Blue Ridge Parkway, 9; Great Smoky Mountains NP, 12; Big South Fork Recreation Area, 12; Olympic NP, 8; Yellowstone NP, 7 (2007, NPS, Appalachian Highlands Inventory and Monitoring Network)
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway supports a substantial number of “critically imperiled” (G1), “imperiled” (G2), and “vulnerable” (G3) species: Blue Ridge Parkway, 74; Great Smoky Mountain NP, 125; Big South Fork NRA, 31; Olympic NP, 30′ Yellowstone NP, 23.
  • Animal species by park:

      Olympic NP Blue Ridge Pky Great Smky Mtn Yellowstone NP
    Reptiles 4 30 39 6
    Amphibians 13 43 41 4
    Mammals 64 67 75 66
    Fish 93 93 71 18
    Birds 243 227 209 320

Physical Facts

  • Length    470.02 miles (752 km)
  • Beginning Point  Milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap in Virginia (elevation 1,900′). The Parkway begins here at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park.
  • Ending Point     Milepost 469 is at the Oconaluftee River in North Carolina (elevation 2,020′). The Parkway ends here at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • Highest Elevation     VA – 3,950′    NC – 6,053′
  • Intersecting Interstate Highways    I-64, I-77, I-40, and I-26 with no interchanges. (I-81 comes near, but does not intersect the Parkway.)
  • Total Acreage:      81,680
  • Number of acres in North Carolina 46,961
  • Number of acres in Virginia 34,719
  • Scenic easement  acres   2,135
  • Fee simple acres          77,092
  • Total Boundary   >12,000 miles


The Parkway By the Numbers

  • Number of counties traveled through 29 (VA-12; NC-17)
  • Number of historic houses 6
  • Number of Metropolitan Areas with a common boundary 3
  • Number of miles of paved roads 525
  • Number of miles from Rockfish Gap to the Oconaluftee River 470.2
  • Number of miles in North Carolina 253.07
  • Number of miles in Virginia 216.96
  • Number of miles of trail 350
  • Number of paved overlooks    275
  • Number of feet at highest point – 6,047 – near Richland Balsam, NC
  • Number of feet at lowest point – 649 – Otter Creek near Lynchburg, VA
  • Number of picnic areas    11
  • Number of public use buildings   246
  • Number of signs 14,000+
  • Number of tunnels 26
  • Number of vistas 900
  • Number of visitor centers 14
  • Number of Adjacent Private Property Owners >4,500
  • Number of National Forests Crossed 4
  • Number of miles in National Forests 185
  • Number of backcountry Areas 14 (ranging from 1,000-5,000 acres) Number of Campgrounds 9
  • Number of recreation areas within borders 18
  • Number of state parks with a common boundary 2
  • Number of miles in Qualla Boundary Reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians 11
  • Number of administrative/residential buildings 36
  • Number of bridges 151
  • Number crossings and access points 270   Public 109 (VA-86; NC-23), Private 161
  • Number of dams 14
  • Number of maintenance facilities 13
  • Number of public road crossings with No Grade Separation in NC – 63
  • Number of radio towers (communication system) 10
  • Number of sewer systems 101
  • Number of utility lines bisecting natural features 400
  • Number of water systems 51