Front Porch Blog

Blue Ridge Parkway Funding Lessens

Anne Whisnant over at the News & Observer gives us a well-researched update on the increasingly underfunded Blue Ridge Parkway:

America’s beloved Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenic road winding through the North Carolina and Virginia mountains, is in crisis. Though it has been the most popular attraction in the National Parks system since the 1950s, and today draws more visitors than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined, its annual operating budget is only about half that of those parks.

Now, with the entire National Park Service budget increasingly inadequate to cover even basic costs, the Parkway is in serious trouble. This year, 45 of 237 permanent staff positions lie vacant, including 40 percent of positions in the office that manages landscape development, historical and cultural resources, and planning. Road repairs, grass mowing and restroom cleaning have been curtailed; improvements to Parkway facilities are almost unthinkable. Meanwhile, encroaching development threatens the Parkway’s magnificent views.

Under President Bush, park superintendents are asked to absorb or cut 20-30% of their tax-funded appropriations. With the Blue Ridge Parkway already chronically underfunded, we are starting to see a direct cut in services.

This year, Whisnant points out, the “Official Map and Guide” many travelers rely on was overbudget, and could not be printed. Only after a coalition of outside groups (of which there are many) came in was it printed.

Whisnant opines a solution:

Over the long haul, only increased federal funding can solve this disastrous situation. But in the meantime, for the Blue Ridge Parkway, there might be another solution to the budget woes: the two states that helped create the Parkway might step in now to help save it.

Such a solution would be faithful to the Parkway’s history, which I have been studying for the past 15 years. Though many have forgotten this now, the Parkway originated in the 1930s as the brainchild of citizens in North Carolina and Virginia. Early funding for the project was a joint federal-state affair. The two states bought nearly half of the Parkway’s 80,000 acres and donated them to the federal government, which funded and managed Parkway development.

Citizens in both states provided much of the vision for the project. That vision, to be sure, drew in healthy measure on pro-business boosterism that projected the Parkway as a driver of accelerated tourism development in the mountains. But that boosterism mixed with a public-spirited idea for a world-class road that would guide anyone — regardless of physical ability or ability to pay — to and through some of America’s most gorgeous places.

Cooperating with federal agencies and private construction contractors, North Carolina and Virginia gave America a glorious scenic road and got a great influx of tourists in return.

Under a Republican Congress, we are starting to see a squeeze on National Parks and protected areas all across the country, none of which have been accepted fondly. The National Forest sale/rural education farce, unnecceary roads to nowhere, the selling of southern forests to oil/gas companies, and now they’re taking the legs out from under some of our most beloved places – such as the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Its sad.





Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment