SPARTA, N.C. — The Blue Ridge Parkway's considered a national gem, glowing with color. But some feel the gem is chipped. They feel the color of rust dominates the color of green.
"It's devastating to see the condition of the Blue Ridge Parkway today," said Susan Mills with Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The parkway winds through North Carolina and Virginia for almost 500 miles, with more than 80,000 acres of scenery, depending on your point of view.
"It's just been years and years since this was cleared out," said Richard Wells, also with Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"The overlooks are all overgrown, and we really haven't seen any fantastic views," said visitor Pay O'Shea.
Wells said the parkway's in trouble because of a funding crisis. Despite having twice as many visitors as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and more people than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone combined, it receives less money from the federal government than any other national park.
"We're down $5 million from the high that was reached 20 years ago," said Wells. "Twenty-five percent of the work force of the Blue Ridge Parkway is no longer here; they've lost their jobs. A third of the maintenance staff of the Blue Ridge Parkway is gone."
Wells said there is a $200 million backlog of maintenance to be done on the parkway. National Park Service official Rick Baker, who is in charge of maintenance on the parkway, said the agency is running out of resources.
"You know, the people that manage the money have to make decisions, what they think are the most important priorities," said Mindy DeCesar with the National Park Service.
The loss of 5 million visitors per year impacts North Carolina towns like Sparta.
"The majority of our tourism comes off the parkway," said Sparta hotel owner John Kilmartin. "It needs to at least return to where it once was, for the sake of Sparta and Alleghany County."
Baker said that he believes that the quality of a visit is still high on the parkway. To him, it's fall's golden gem. But some see mostly red.
"And I would say that today that the red-headed stepchild is sick," Wells said. "We are in a funding crisis."