Saturday, June 19, 2010

Now That's a Parkway

Seventy-five years ago, in a time of deep economic troubles, the federal government decided to put some people to work. The leaders of those days noted that there were beautiful national parks in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and the Great Smokies National Forest in North Carolina and Tennessee, so they decided to build a roadway to link them. This road, initially known as the "Appalachian Scenic Highway" took over fifty-two years to complete; the last stretch being laid around Grandfather Mountain in 1987. It was built, for the most part, by hand. There are many rock walls and tunnels on the roadway, and creating it gave skilled and unskilled Americans (and new immigrants) jobs for many years.

Unlike other roadways, this one really is a parkway. As in a road which is also a park, patrolled by forest rangers, with wildlife in abundance. Now known as the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is a specially built 469 miles of road without a single stop sign, red light, or store. There are scenic overlooks every couple of miles, and there are rest stops every hour or so. The park service does operate a few facilities, well off the roadway, such as a Folk Art Center, but there is no commercial traffic allowed, and that means no 18 wheelers. It's an amazing accomplishment, and the most marvelous part is the Linn Cove Viaduct, which is a long, freestanding bridge which curves around Grandfather Mountain.

While there are many famous parks in this country, the most visited national park is the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some people visit it annually, and I recently spoke with a lady who tours it every spring, summer, and fall. Since the speed limit is 45 mph (or lower) most people take several days, so they can stop and tour some of the sights. In addition to overlooks, there are numerous visitor centers, and some state parks which adjoin the national park.

In the Atlanta region, the new thing is to name a road a "parkway." Most of them end up at a jail or a shopping mall. I am not kidding. In my home county, Jackson Parkway goes to the jail and an overpriced courthouse. Barrow Parkway ends at the jail and a more efficient court facility. Sugarloaf Parkway has Discover Mills Mall on one side and the Gwinnett Arena on the other side of I-85. Modern leaders could learn a thing or two from the vision of those who, in 1935, planned and created the parkway.



At Jul 1, 2010, 9:51:00 PM, Blogger Sun Singer said...

This is one of our favorite places to visit, especially the section between Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Pisgah. Plenty of scenery, trails, and places to stop and have a picnic lunch.


At Jul 1, 2010, 10:14:00 PM, Blogger Pamela J. Dodd said...

Yes, I didn't know about the picnic aspect when we went a couple of weeks ago, but we ended up with leftover pizza from our first night, so we had an impromptu lunch perched on a wall just outside Asheville. The next day, we bought Subway and took it in a cooler. It is a very scenic drive, but the best way to enjoy it is to stay on the parkway. Since there are no restaurants, the best way seems to be the old fashioned picnic.

Our son was especially impressed with the viaduct. He was shouting "Who Hoo" as we went around a curve. It looks as if you are driving into the sky!

We stayed in Blowing Rock, which is a neat town; sort of a cross between Helen and downtown Athens. The restaurants were divine.


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