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snake fence

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road in the United States, noted for its scenic beauty. It runs for 469 miles (755 km), mostly through the famous Blue Ridge, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Land on either side of the road is maintained by the National Park Service. It is the longest, narrowest National Park in the world and is the most visited unit in the United States National Park System. In many places, the park is bordered by land protected by the United States Forest Service.

History

Begun during the administration of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, the project was originally called the "Appalachian Scenic Highway." Most construction was carried out by private contractors under federal contracts under an authorization by Harold L. Ickes in his role as federal public works administrator. Work began on September 11, 1935 near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina; construction in Virginia began the following February. On June 30, 1936, Congress formally authorized the project as the "Blue Ridge Parkway" and placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Some work was carried out by various New Deal public works agencies. The Works Progress Administration did some roadway construction. Crews from the Emergency Relief Administration carried out landscape work and development of parkway recreation areas. Personnel from four Civilian Conservation Corps camps worked on roadside cleanup, roadside plantings, grading slopes and improving adjacent fields and forest lands. During World War II, the CCC crews were replaced by conscientious objectors in the Civilian Public Service program.

Construction of the parkway took over fifty-two years to complete, the last stretch (near the Linn Cove Viaduct) being laid around Grandfather Mountain in 1987. The Blue Ridge Parkway tunnels were constructed through the rock -- one in Virginia and twenty-five in North Carolina. Sections of the Parkway near the tunnels are often closed in winter. (Due to dripping groundwater from above, freezing temperatures, and the lack of sunshine, ice often accumulates inside these areas even when the surrounding areas are above freezing.) The highest point on the parkway (south of Waynesville, near Mount Pisgah in North Carolina) is 6047 feet (according to the 2005 Parkway map) or 1845 m above sea level (AMSL) on Richland Balsam Mountain at Milepost 431, and is often closed from November to April due to inclement weather such as snow, fog, and even freezing fog from low clouds. The parkway is carried across streams, railway ravines and cross roads by 168 bridges and six viaducts.

The parkway runs from the southern terminus of Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive in Virginia at Rockfish Gap to U.S. Route 441 at Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina. There is no fee for using the parkway, however commercial vehicles are prohibited without approval from the Park Service Headquarters, near Asheville, North Carolina. The roadway is not maintained in the winter, and sections which pass over especially high elevations and through tunnels are often impassable and therefore closed from late fall through early spring. Weather is extremely variable in the mountains, so conditions and closures often change rapidly. The speed limit is never higher than 45 mph (70 km/h) and lower in some sections.

The parkway uses short side roads to connect to other highways, and there are no direct interchanges with interstate highways, making it possible to enjoy wildlife and other scenery without stopping for cross-traffic. Mileposts along the parkway start at zero at the northeast end in Virginia and count to 469 at the southern end in North Carolina. The mileposts can be found on the west side of the road. Major towns and cities along the way include Waynesboro, Roanoke, and Galax in Virginia; and in North Carolina, Boone and Asheville, where it runs across the property of the Biltmore Estate. The Blue Ridge Music Center (also part of the park) is located in Galax, and Mount Mitchell (the highest point in eastern North America) is only accessible via a state road from the parkway at milepost 355.4.

The parkway has been referenced in popular culture, for example, in the Carbon Leaf song, "Blue Ridge Laughing".

Ecology along the parkway

Wildflowers dominate the parkway in the spring, including rhododendrons and dogwoods, moving from valleys to mountains as the cold weather retreats. Smaller annuals and perennials such as the daisy and aster flower through the summer. Brilliant autumn foliage occurs later in September on the mountaintops, descending to the valleys by later in October. Often in early to middle October and middle to late April, all three seasons can be seen simply by looking down from the cold and windy parkway to the green and warm valleys below. October is especially dramatic, as the colored leaves stand out boldly and occur mostly at the same time, unlike the flowers.

Major trees include oak, hickory, and tulip tree at lower elevations and buckeye and ash in the middle, turning into conifers such as fir and spruce at the highest elevations on the parkway. Trees near ridges, peaks, and passes (often called gaps or notches) are often distorted and even contorted by the wind, and persistent rime ice deposited by passing clouds in the winter.

Parkway Highlights

(Much of this information comes from the official Blue Ridge Parkway map GPO:2003-496-196/40572 Reprint 2004)

Highlights in Virginia

Highlights in North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the North Carolina-Virginia state line at mile 216.9. The 1749 party that surveyed the boundary included Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas Jefferson.

Closures

It is not unusual for small sections of the Parkway to be temporarily closed to repair damage caused by the cold winter climate of the mountains. Detours caused by these closures are well-marked, and are arranged to cause as little disruption as possible.

Due to serious damage in 2004 from Hurricane Frances, then again by Hurricane Ivan, many areas along the parkway were closed until the spring of 2005, with two areas that were not fully repaired until the spring of 2006. These sections are now open.

Partners

(Much of this information comes from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation's Partners page) The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Park site and while its operations budget is funded by the United States Congress, it works with many partner organizations that have unique roles in supporting it:

  • AdvantageWest-North Carolina is western North Carolina's regional economic development commission;
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway Association is a membership organization that includes Parkway attractions, outdoor recreation, accommodations, restaurants, shops, and a variety of other services for the Parkway traveler;
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is the primary and professional fundraising organization for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, designated in 2003, recognizes the unique character, culture, and natural beauty of Western North Carolina;
  • The Conservation Trust for North Carolina focuses many of tis efforts on the protection of the scenic views and natural areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway;
  • Eastern National is the principle provider of quality educational products and services to the visitors to America's national parks;
  • The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway primary mission is to mobilize and provide leadership for volunteers who assist with a wide variety of Parkway projects;
  • The National Council for Traditional Arts supports the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Virginia;
  • The Southern Highland Craft Guild has galleries at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in Blowing Rock, North Carolina and at the Folk Art Center in Asheville, North Carolina;
  • Virginia's Explore Park combines a unique blend of historic areas that feature early western Virginia eras and cultures and hundreds of acres of wooded lands deep in the ridge and valley region of Virginia; and
  • Western Virginia Land Trust protects lands in southwest Virginia and promotes conservation and stewardship of the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwest Virginia.

See also

External links

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