Message from the Park Superintendent
CREATING BALANCE IN CHALLENGING TIMES
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I think it is important for us to consider our mission as prescribed by Congress: “ to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” This mission has served us well and has resulted in an impressive array of National Park units across America including its trust territories.
When the Blue Ridge Parkway was created twenty years later in 1935, the Blue Ridge Parkway was authorized as part of the National Park System to link Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks and to enhance the outstanding scenic and recreational qualities of the corridor that it traverses, conserve unimpaired its significant natural and cultural resources, and promote in perpetuity the public enjoyment and appreciation of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains.
Today, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited national park unit in the system with an average of 16 million visits a year. While the Blue Ridge Parkway is a respite for active travelers it is also home to hundreds of lively mammal, reptile, and bird species as well as more than 1,000 vascular plant species. These numbers make the Parkway region one of the most diverse in the world. There are nearly 100 tree species along the Parkway, more than are found in all of Europe. Because the Parkway has an elevation range of 5,700 feet, a wide variety of plant vegetation can thrive here.
However, a dichotomy exists on the Parkway. Despite its superlatives as a national treasure and its mandate to conserve inimpaired its natural and cultural resources; we find encroaching commercial and residential development, air and water quality issues, poaching, and lack of sufficient funding threatening this valuable and vulnerable American asset.
The Parkway is many things to people. It is a scenic drive, a fragile ecosystem, a place to recreate, a place of many stories, a cultural landscape, and a place where memories are made that are passed down from one generation to the next. The Parkway plays an important role in the economies of western North Carolina and Virginia creating jobs and welcoming visitors.
As those of us know that love the Parkway, it is all these things and more. A more appropriate question may be how do we balance the protection of the resource with the impacts of promoting public enjoyment of it?
The protection of this resource is an immense task, with much at stake. While Parkway views are expansive, its right-of-way averages 800-feet in width. Many views take in private lands that are increasingly prized for residential and commercial development. As adjacent farms and pastures on these “borrowed landscapes” give way to vacation homes and subdivisions, the Parkway’s very essence is compromised. Studies have shown what we know intuitively: declining visual quality will ultimately lead to diminished value.
On a daily basis Parkway staff grapple with these of issues, all of which bring the future of the resource into question. However,
it is the responsibility of all of us – individuals, elected officials, business, communities alike – to embrace Parkway values, speak out regarding future challenges, and actively work for a sustainable and healthy Blue Ridge Parkway.
Fortunately, many non-profit partner groups, including the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, now work hand-in-hand with the
Parkway staff. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s important support and responsiveness to Parkway needs has become
vital to the Parkway’s ability to meet some of its most basic needs. Over the past two years the Foundation’s financial support of more than $1.5 million has allowed the park to address important projects. For example, Foundation support allowed the Parkway to:
- install emergency response radio systems,
- conduct important archaeological work at the Moses Cone estate,
- monitor wildlife,
- reach over 40,000 students with the Parks as Classrooms program,
- provide access to Blue Ridge music traditions to new audiences,
- protect deteriorating historic features,
The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is a leader in demonstrating the stewardship ethic the Parkway needs now more than ever. The Parkway of tomorrow will be defined by the extent to which people today are willing to step up on behalf of the Parkway and to invest in its future. Thank you for being a part of this important work.
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