More than 130 leaders from North Carolina and Virginia gathered to discuss strategies for unifying and strengthening communities adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway during the Blue Ridge Rising Two-State Summit on Dec. 5-6 in Blowing Rock.
“Stretching across hundreds of miles and 29 counties in two states, the region surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most important destinations in the country for its abundant natural and cultural resources, significant tourism opportunities, and is increasingly a top destination for business and those in search of a high-quality place to live,” said Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Tracy Swartout in her welcome message.
Blue Ridge Rising is an initiative driven by community engagement to unite the Parkway’s gateway communities for the betterment of the region. The event, hosted by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation working with Destination by Design, highlighted six key focus areas determined by participants in a series of 30 listening sessions hosted earlier this year. Presenters highlighted the top action strategies in marketing, education, advocacy, resource protection, visitor experiences, and capacity building.
The gathering featured a range of speakers and panelists, including Laura Wolf of Three Ridges Touring; Jessie Birckhead with Conservation Corps NC, Kim Davis with Friends of Southwest Virginia; Jesse Pope with Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation; ; Kalen Hunter with Virginia Tourism Corporation; and Zach Wallace with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“That was one of the most inspiring meetings I think I have ever attended, and I look forward to finding ways where Wake Forest can make a difference,” wrote Stan Meiburg, Ph.D., Executive Director, Sabin Family Center for Environment and Sustainability, Wake Forest University.
The strategies include developing a unified regional voice, creating curated travel itineraries to highlight regional offerings, advancing connector trails and greenways, protecting the viewsheds that attract Parkway visitors, bolstering workforce development in hospitality and natural resources, promoting safe bicycling adventures, and identifying dark sky areas for stargazing along the 469-mile route of the national park.
"The Blue Ridge Rising Summit marks a historic milestone, bringing together 29 counties from North Carolina and Virginia with a shared dedication to shaping a brighter future for the communities along the Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Davis, Executive Director of Friends of Southwest Virginia. “Guided by the leadership of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, partners are committed to collaboratively exploring ways to enhance travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation while fostering growth and economic impact along the Parkway. Friends of Southwest Virginia is honored to be part of this initiative and looks forward to collaborating with the Foundation and our partners to ensure the growth and impact of the Parkway.”
The Blue Ridge Rising action plan will be finalized in early 2024, and the Foundation and its partners will implement the first projects soon thereafter.
In 2022, the Parkway was the most visited national park with more than 15.7 million visitors who spent nearly $1.3 billion in communities near the national park.
Blue Ridge Rising is organized by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, with primary funding provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.