Blue Ridge Parkway Needs Your Comments

Reader Contribution by Winona Bateman

Today’s post is written by Ginny Sullivan, special projects director at Adventure Cycling Association and a lead staff on the U.S. Bicycle Route System project.

A couple of weeks ago, the Adventure Cycling blog called attention to the Roanoke Mountain Campground’s threatened closure via the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Draft Management Plan (DMP). We asked you to comment on the threatened closure; now, it seems we must revisit this request and ask cyclists everywhere to weigh in on the management goals laid out in Blue Ridge Parkway’s Plan. Be aware that you must act fast, as the deadline for comments is December 16.

Why this is important

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a major draw for bicyclists. Locally and regionally, cyclists enjoy riding the parkway’s roads and trails, both for recreation and transportation. Twenty-six miles of the parkway make up part of our oldest and most traveled bicycle route, the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. Established as a touring route in 1976 — when some 4,000 cyclists traversed the continent in honor of our nation’s 200th birthday — in 1982 this route was also designated as U.S. Bike Route 76 through three states (Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois). In addition, this plan has the potential to dampen efforts to designate a future U.S. Bike Route on the Blue Ridge Parkway, along with Skyline Drive. We also run a popular bicycle tour, called Blue Ridge Bliss, through the parkway each year. As an organization that seeks to create lasting experiences while honoring the landscapes of America, Adventure Cycling treasures the cultural, historic, and natural resources of this national gem.

The issues in the plan were brought to our attention by the Virginia Bicycling Federation. They led us to a National Parks Traveler article that outlines some of the controversies associated with the parkway’s plans to gain National Historic Landmark Status, along with describing their management plan. We quickly realized that none of the options proposed in the plan is entirely bicycle friendly.

What’s in the plan

The Blue Ridge Parkway is applying for National Historic Landmark (NHL) status as a way to manage the parkway under the financial strain of diminishing national park budgets. However, the designation clearly sets a bad precedent — one that cannot be easily undone. Under this status, any changes within the parkway will go under intense historic and environmental review, called the Section 106 process. This could halt or stagnate trail building, road maintenance, or any number of future improvements for bicycle access. In addition, other national parks could begin using this designation to “preserve” the status quo. Despite the growing interest in bicycling, park managers wouldn’t have to accommodate cyclists or other non-motorized and alternative transportation users.

There is also a continued reference to the parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience…” The parkway was formed through legislation in 1936 and managers have a vision of retaining the “golden age” of that time. But let’s be realistic, a traditional driving experience in 1936 was far different than a driving experience in the 21st century. Motorized vehicles should not be promoted as the only way to experience the parkway.

The parkway administration’s preferred management plan is Alternative B. While none of the options proposed (A = no change; B = promoting the “driving experience”; C= partnership with local economies) are entirely bicycle friendly, B is probably the least bicycle-oriented option of all. The plan also fails to recognize the economic vitality the cycling brings to the parkway and surrounding communities.

In a nutshell, the Blue Ridge Parkway is overwhelmed, with almost 20 million annual visitors, and underfunded. However, on all counts this plan fails to meet the vision created by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in his Great Outdoors Initiative, which includes a goal of “Connecting Americans to the Great Outdoors“. And it further derails Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis’ Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement,” (PDF) which challenges park managers to expand the use of our national parks for outdoor recreation; to connect parks in urban areas through public transportation and pedestrian and bike paths; and to decrease the carbon footprint and showcase the value of renewable energy.

What you can do

You can submit written comments on the Blue Ridge Parkway Draft Management Plan to:

Superintendent Philip A. Francis, Jr.
Blue Ridge Parkway
199 Hemphill Knob Road
Asheville, NC 28803

Or formally submit comments through the online system by answering the following three questions:

  • What proposals or aspects do you like/dislike about the alternatives in this Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (DGMP/EIS)?
  • Do you have any suggestions for improving the preferred alternative in this DGMP/EIS? If so, what are they?
  • Do you have any other comments related to this DGMP/EIS?

See the Virginia Bicycling Federation’s website for sample answers.

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