Future of Blue Ridge Parkway to Be Determined by Park’s First General Management Plan

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   October 31, 2011
Contact:   Chris Watson, National Parks Conservation Association, 216-854-5282 or cwatson@npca.org
Don Barger, National Parks Conservation Association, 865-329-2424, ext. 23 or dbarger@npca.org
Perry Wheeler, National Parks Conservation Association, 202-419-3712 or pwheeler@npca.org


Future of Blue Ridge Parkway to Be Determined by Park’s First General Management Plan

Four public meetings scheduled to help guide resource management at the park for next twenty years

Asheville, NC – On Wednesday, November 2, the National Park Service will hold the first of four meetings on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s first-ever general management plan (GMP) in Asheville, North Carolina. This important document, the first in its 75 year history, will guide resource management at the park for the next twenty years.

When the Blue Ridge Parkway was established in 1935, it was conceived as a self-contained, controlled access scenic and recreational motorway to provide a unique experience of the landscapes and vistas of the Appalachian Mountains. Today, the Parkway is the single most visited unit in the National Park System, generating approximately $2.2 billion in local economic activity annually. However, the Parkway’s original landscape of forests and farms is changing rapidly.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway’s first general management plan provides a tremendous opportunity at a critical moment to keep up with and adapt to the significant land use changes occurring in the region surrounding our nation’s most visited national park,” said National Parks Conservation Association Program Manager Chris Watson. “We feel strongly that if the GMP fails to embody strong preservation and resource protection principles, then the very nature and purpose of the Parkway could be lost in the coming generation given the enormous growth and development pressures that the region has experienced.”

According to a recent study by the UNC Charlotte Center for Applied Geographic Information Science, since 1976, western North Carolina’s mountains have experienced a 42% increase in population and a 568% increase in land development. Though the growth has temporarily slowed with the economic downturn, the Parkway’s relationship to the regional transportation network is currently at a crossroads. Through the general management plan, the Parkway can preserve its integrity as a self-contained, scenic motorway separate from the regional highway system, rather than allow piecemeal road developments to transform the historic parkway into a commuter traffic route.

“Throughout the Parkway’s 75 year history, most of the 199 secondary roads that cross at-grade have not had a significant impact on the park, as they have been largely rural and lightly travelled,” said Watson. “Growing pressure for secondary road improvements could jeopardize the future of the park in the form of adjacent land development and increased non-visitor commuter traffic along the Parkway. We hope that the National Park Service will fully consider how these changes could degrade scenic quality and the visitor experience as they finalize the GMP.”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Park Service is required to analyze cumulative impacts of secondary road improvements on Parkway resources. All three GMP alternatives presented by the Park Service will continue a current moratorium on secondary road improvement projects, in both Virginia and North Carolina, until a comprehensive corridor access management plan and environmental impact statement can be completed. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) supports the Park Service in continuing the moratorium.

Additionally, NPCA supports a general management plan that embodies the following tenets:

• The maintenance of the historic appearance, character, and visitor experience of the Blue Ridge Parkway should be a fundamental priority in all planning decisions.

• Visitors come to the Parkway to escape from traffic, noise, crowding, and intrusive development.  They value the peace, solitude, quiet, and spectacular scenic views that the Parkway experience provides.  These values must be protected and enhanced.

• In addressing the need for a comprehensive transportation solution, improvement of secondary roads crossing the Parkway should proceed only if there is no prudent and feasible alternative and if it includes all possible planning and mitigation to minimize harm to park resources.

• The Parkway must remain separate and distinct from the regional transportation system.  Road connectors that may trigger adjacent residential development and increase non-visitor, commuter traffic flows must be minimized.  This can be partially accomplished by maximizing grade-separated crossings and exploring opportunities where at-grade crossings could potentially be eliminated through roadway redesign and merger into off-Parkway frontage roads.

NPCA encourages concerned citizens and Parkway supporters to learn more and participate in the planning process by attending the Asheville public meeting on Wednesday November 2nd from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Folk Art Center, Milepost 382, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. For a list of additional public meetings, please click here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkID=355&projectID=10419

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The draft study is available for public comment through December 16, 2011: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=355&projectID=10419&documentID=43487

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