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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Blue Ridge Budget Blues

Posted February 6, 2007 9:25 a.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2007 1:13 p.m. EST

     What national park has more visitors annually than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined and faces a serious funding shortage?

     The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited park in America yet its budget has increased by only one half of one per cent since 1980 when you adjust for inflation.

     The 469 mile ribbon running the crest of the Blue Ridge range from northern Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City has suffered a sad state of neglect for years. You can see it for yourself. Many vistas are overgrown for lack of maintenance. Fallen trees lie uncleared. Visitor centers have closed. Restrooms are not as clean as they should be.

     Let me state my bias. I am a huge fan. I grew up on the Parkway. My father would pack the family in our Chevy almost every weekend for a trip to such grand destinations as Doughton Park, Craggy Gardens and the Devil's Courthouse. We even drove the entire Virginia stretch up to Front Royal one summer. I remember pimento cheese picnics and pristine beauty captured on canvas in my father's watercolors.

     There is hope. The President's budget is more favorable to national parks this time around. Senator Elizabeth Dole and Representative Brad Miller have been working hard to generate a better deal for the Parkway including a thaw to a hiring freeze. Lots of folks are writing and calling their representatives in Washington. Maybe you will do the same.

     In the meantime let's generate some talk. What is your favorite stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway and what are your favorite memories of this national treasure?