The Parkway’s Future: Scenic Drive or Commuter Route?

“Beautiful,” “views,” “connector,” “memories,” “trails,” “birding,” “family,” “inspirational,” “vacations,” and “commuter route”—these are some of the responses given by a diverse group of stakeholders who were asked, “What is the one word that describes what the Blue Ridge Parkway means to you?”

The occasion for this exercise was NPCA’s Blue Ridge Parkway Transportation Workshop held last November 9th at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. More than 50 attendees came together to examine transportation planning challenges facing the Blue Ridge Parkway. The day-long workshop brought together individuals from nearly all 17 counties along the North Carolina portion of the parkway, including community and tourism leaders, land trusts, regional planning groups, transportation officials, recreation interests, wildlife specialists, and more. The workshop capped more than a year’s worth of research and collaboration between NPCA, the University of Georgia’s Center for Remote Sensing and Mapping Science, and the Asheville Design Center.

The workshop offered the opportunity to share data, analysis, and maps with information such as future population growth and development patterns, critical viewsheds, priority conservation lands, important cultural resources, and current and projected traffic volumes and patterns. Workshop attendees spent the afternoon in breakout discussions focused on themes of land and resource protection, recreation access and use, and tourism and economic development. 

“The event successfully brought together a diverse group of knowledgeable people to help us ground-truth our collected information, fill in missing pieces and identify important areas needing further attention,” said Chris Watson, NPCA’s Blue Ridge Parkway program manager. “After thoroughly evaluating the feedback from the workshop participants, NPCA will be working to define a second phase of this project, which will add new information and refine and expand the analysis to date.” 

The intent of NPCA’s work going forward is to encourage the National Park Service, in collaboration with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, to examine the impacts of secondary road development in a holistic manner to prevent the incremental loss of the scenic parkway experience. We can also lower the cost of such planning by sharing the data and results of our analysis. We expect that our research will be useful to the land trust community by helping to identify parcels near key secondary roads that should be prioritized for conservation.

NPCA would like to acknowledge and thank the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and NPCA Regional Council Member Mary English for their generous support of this workshop. Stay tuned for updates in 2013 as we move closer to an official NPS transportation plan that will insure that the parkway remains separate and distinct from the regional transportation system for generations to come.

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