• Roger W. Downes

A Highway Full Of Adventure, The Blue Ridge Parkway

Updated: Feb 14

The Beauty, History, Education and Support of the Parkway

The Linville Viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Blowing Rock.
The Blue Ridge Parkway

When you visit Asheville, North Carolina you may find yourself drinking an IPA or two at one of the many microbreweries, or discovering the artisans scattered throughout the beautiful shops and galleries of downtown. However, almost everyone eventually takes a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the United States most popular National Parks. With over 16 million visitors a year the Parkway hosts more adventure bound souls than the National Parks of Yellow Stone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined. This huge flux of visitors brings an estimated 1.2 billion dollars of revenue each year into the mountain towns scattered along the Parkway which winds her way across the ridge tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains connecting The Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the Shenandoah National Park.

Listen to the Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Interview

Along her 469 mile stretch the Parkway offers visitors the chance to dive deep into American and Appalachia history such as how Mountain Men from Western North Carolina turned the tide in the American Revolutionary War, or how the blue jeans you may currently be wearing were first manufactured high in a small mountain town. Then near the southern end of your journey you will discover rich Cherokee Culture nestled away in the valleys and mountains of Cherokee, North Carolina.

Your drive through American History is only a small portion of what the Blue Ridge Parkway offers. The romantically roaming road sweetly fills your senses with majestic views, sounds and aromas just this side of Heaven. For the brave at heart, you can discover hidden trails and waterfalls along the Parkway allowing you to escape into a fantasy world of imagination and adventure.

The Historic Orchard at Altapass has apples, cider and history to enjoy

No one can argue that The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national string of pearls to be cherished and protected. However, the Federal Government does not release the full financial resources required to completely achieve this task. This is where groups such as The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation come into play. The Foundation, established in 1997, helps to fill in the financial gaps to repair the roads, maintain historical landmarks, restore trails, save diseased trees and beautify your experience as you freely travel her winding roads.

Fund raising isn’t the Foundation’s only task as Carolyn Ward, Chief Executive Officer of The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation explained to us during her interview for Episode 18 of the Explore with RWD Podcast. The Foundation also works hand in hand with education programs which give visitors nature experiences they won’t soon forget.

One of these programs is the Kids in Parks initiative which Ward personally helped to dawn after hosting an outdoor and explore birthday party for her daughter where the guests rejected the idea of possibly getting dirty. Ward was amazed how her daughter’s generation didn’t appreciate the outdoors as she had in her youth, which sparked her initiative to help launch Kids in Parks. The program gives parents and their children the chance to explore the outdoors together, get a little dirty and make memories that will last a lifetime. Since its inception along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Kids in Parks has grown to a national level even reaching families visiting parks in Washington DC.

The Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation does a bit more to benefit the Parkway beyond that. For instance, they help in purchasing wildflowers to plant along the Parkway giving visitors a beautiful array of colors and aromas to enjoy as they drive along with their windows down. They also commission and organize volunteers for repair and maintenance projects along the trails, pull offs and picnic areas. In short, they go above and beyond the call of duty to instill a love for nature in the Parkway’s 16 million visitors in hopes they will pass that love on within their families.

As you can imagine these projects come with a price tag and the monies to fund them have to be generated from somewhere and that somewhere is you. Before you think, “Here comes the huge sale pitch”, you can easily donate a small portion of your income each year to help maintain this free 469-mile-long park, even if you only donate a dollar. During this blog’s accompanying podcast, Ward sighted the philosophy that each dollar added to another dollar added to another dollar and so on, makes all the difference.

One of the most popular fundraisers for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, for who call North Carolina home, is to purchase a Specialty Blue Ridge Parkway License plate for your car, truck or motorcycle. The plates cost an additional $30 per year with $20 of each purchase going directly to the Foundation and the remaining $10 going toward the Parkway’s wildflower program mentioned earlier in this blog.

If you are outside of North Carolina or wish to make a simple donation you can at their website (listed below). Remember all donations are tax deductible but more importantly go toward maintaining a free and amazing natural resource which allows us to reconnect with nature and recharge our batteries. Personally, when I start to feel anxious or depressed, I slip off onto the Parkway to watch a sunrise or breath in the mountain air; an outing which always seems to relieve my darkest moods.

Please, if you have never gone, go for a winter hike along the Parkway or take a drive this Spring after she opens again to enjoy the beautiful blossoms.Whenever you go on the Parkway I promise you’ll love every moment.

Visit The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Kids In Parks and the Blue Ridge Parkway online...


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