(ASHEVILLE, N.C.) – It’s the time of year when millions of visitors are eagerly anticipating their next adventure on the Blue Ridge Parkway. As they plan their drive, hike, or camping trip, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is preparing to meet their expectations by funding $600,000 in projects critical to the preservation and betterment of this treasured route.
Each year, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation collaborates with Blue Ridge Parkway staff to identify high priority projects in need of immediate attention to protect the environment and wildlife, prevent deterioration of historic buildings, and improve visitor enjoyment and safety. For 2015, we have identified more than $600,000 in crucial projects and programs, ranging from wildlife research to historic preservation. For instance, the Doughton Park Picnic Area, built in the 1940s and ’50s, is in severe need of attention. The Foundation will fund repairs to the crumbling walkways, picnic tables, and fire pits to restore this spot as a haven for visitors.
“The Blue Ridge Parkway is an incredible place that gives generations of visitors a meaningful connection to the outdoors and our shared history,” said Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation CEO Carolyn Ward. “With the support of our Community of Stewards, we are doing all we can to meet the needs of this beloved journey through our mountains.”
The Foundation is also collaborating with groups such as the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) and Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (FMST) to strengthen our efforts. Through funding by the nonprofit, a youth conservation crew from CTNC will repair trails and campgrounds in the Highlands District. A partnership with FMST will help build a bridge over the Boone Fork near Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Since 1997, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has contributed approximately $9 million to Parkway projects and programs. “The Foundation’s support through the years has helped the park and park visitors in important and meaningful ways,” said Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods. “In 2015, the level of support from the Foundation and their Community of Stewards raises the bar for all of us as we work together to provide a high level of service in protecting park resources and providing high quality visitor experiences. We are grateful for their leadership and vision.”
In addition to the Foundation’s 2015 project list, the nonprofit has committed to raise up to $500,000 for the Centennial Challenge, a competitive bid process for funds to be allocated by Congress. A park must have a partner that will match any allocated funds to qualify for this opportunity. As soon as next week, Congress will announce which projects submitted for consideration will receive funding and require a match from the Foundation. There is more news to come on this exciting opportunity.
Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Annual Project List
The Foundation will address the following high priority projects in 2015 in keeping with its mission to protect, preserve, and enhance the Blue Ridge Parkway. Working with the Blue Ridge Parkway staff, the Foundation identified $600,000 in crucial projects and programs, which are described below.
Protecting Natural Resources & Biodiverse Ecosystems
Hemlock Preservation Project: The Parkway’s old growth Carolina hemlock trees, a rare endemic species, and eastern hemlocks are at serious risk due to the hemlock woolly adelgid. Hemlock is the dominant species in many Parkway forests and its demise would result in cascading effects to other species such as migratory birds and aquatic resources. Funding through the Foundation will ensure the preventative treatment of surviving trees along the Parkway and support a campaign to engage private landowners in the fight against this invasive pest.
Bio Blitz at Rock Castle Gorge: Milepost 168 - Rock Castle Gorge is a significant biological area along the Parkway, but much of these 3,600 acres in the Plateau District have yet to be explored. To survey the diverse array of flora and fauna, the Foundation will support a bio blitz, which will bring together leading scientists and volunteers to survey the various taxa. The result will be a clearer picture of the environmental significance and needs of this intriguing area.
High Country Resource Restoration: The Foundation is partnering with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina to help support the group’s North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps, bringing improvements to Parkway campgrounds and trails while young men and women learn about the wilderness and themselves. Through Foundation funding, a crew of teenagers and young adults will rehabilitate recreation areas in the Highlands District.
Bog Turtle Transmitters: Bog turtles are elusive creatures, difficult to find in summer and hidden in hibernation during the winter. By placing transmitters on turtles within the park, Parkway biologists and managers stand to learn a great deal about the habits and life of this threatened species. The project complements the Parkway’s budding efforts to restore crucial wetlands.
Crayfish Survey: Crayfish may be small, but they can send a big message, telling scientists a lot about the state of the environment in which they live. The southeastern Appalachian Mountains are one of two major crayfish hot spots in the world, yet little research has been done to catalog or understand the varieties of species along the Parkway. The Foundation will provide funding for a survey of these freshwater crustaceans to be conducted by Appalachian State University in conjunction with the National Park Service to identify existing species and immediate threats along the Parkway in North Carolina.
Wildlife Forensics Training: Rangers are tasked with not just the safety of Parkway visitors, but also the resources that make the park so special, including the plants and animals that live here. The Foundation will fund training for park rangers to reduce poaching and natural resource theft.
Wildlife Cameras & Citizen Science: Since the Foundation’s initial funding of 15 remote wildlife cameras in 2009, the devices have captured more than 25,000 images of over 35 species of wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, coyotes, red and gray foxes, elk, European wild hogs, and white-tail deer. The infrared cameras are a valuable tool for resource managers in their efforts to survey and oversee native species. The Foundation will provide funds for 35 new cameras to replace aging units and increase wildlife observation locations. Citizens will be involved in the placement and monitoring of the cameras.
Research & Management of Elk and Wild Boar: Elk and wild boar populations are growing along the Western North Carolina section of the Parkway. The Foundation will fund research to aid in good wildlife management decisions for these large mammals.
Safeguarding Historic & Cultural Heritage
Repair Historic Ramsey Cabin Roof: Milepost 6 - Built in 1890, Ramsey Cabin at Humpback Rocks Farm is an important link to the history of early Appalachian life. The single-crib log structure is in dire need of a new shake roof to prevent irreparable water damage. The Foundation will pay for the replacement of the roof to ensure the cabin remains a fascinating place to connect with our cultural history.
Water Fountain Reconstruction: Many a traveler appreciated stopping for a sip of cool clean water from the iconic rock water fountains that once dotted the Parkway. Today, the few fountains that remain are inoperable. With a goal to preserve the character of the Parkway, the Foundation will rebuild and replumb one of the fountains in 2015.
Flat Top Carriage Trail Signs: Milepost 294 - Visitors often stray from the Carriage Road at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and create shortcuts to the Observation Tower. New signage will deflect visitors from these paths to preserve the plants being damaged by foot traffic.
Educating Visitors & Building the Next Generation of Stewards
Parks as Classrooms: For the last 17 years, the Foundation has supported this important educational program focused on building relationships between children and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our funding supports seasonal staff to deliver programs through classroom visits and field trips. Each year, rangers introduce 25,000 children to the natural wonders of the Parkway while tying into the broader educational goals of schools in Virginia and North Carolina.
Graveyard Fields Interpretive Signs: Milepost 418 - In 2014, the Foundation provided funds to build a restroom facility and expand the parking lot at the Graveyard Fields trailhead. We also partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to protect the fragile habitat by constructing an extended boardwalk along the hiking trail. This year, the Foundation will complete the work by adding educational signage about the history and environmental significance of one of the more popular places to recreate on the Parkway.
Linville Falls Interpretive Signs: Milepost 316 - Last year, the Foundation supported the expansion of the Upper Falls Overlook to allow visitors access to an exceptional exposure of the Linville Falls thrust fault, the starting point of Linville Gorge. Signs highlighting the significance of this geologic feature will complete the project this year.
Outdoor Guide for Visitors: By printing the Outdoor Guide, we will share important information related to visitor safety and enjoyment of the Parkway, while fostering a greater appreciation for its natural and cultural resources.
Ensuring Visitor Enjoyment & Safety
Doughton Park Picnic Area Rehabilitation: Milepost 240 - Doughton Park is a beloved spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it is difficult to enjoy the picnic area in its current run-down condition. The picnic tables and walkways date back to the 1940s and ’50s and are in severe disrepair. We will fund a rehabilitation of the area that will replace tables and address crumbling stonework, flagstone walks, and fire pits.
Boone Fork Bridge: Milepost 296 - Those who hike the section of the Mountains to Sea Trail near Blowing Rock, N.C., have likely encountered the dangerous and seasonally impassible crossing at Boone Fork Creek. To remedy the problem, the Friends of the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail secured a grant of $200,000 to build a pedestrian bridge. The Foundation will provide a match of $50,000 for construction and engineering costs to make this trail linked to the Blue Ridge Parkway a safe and enjoyable hike.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Brochures: The Foundation will provide interpretive brochures so park-goers can navigate the 3,600-acre Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and gain a greater understanding of the historic significance of Flat Top Manor, the orchards, and carriage trails.
EMS Training & Equipment: The assistance of park rangers in times of emergency is invaluable. This investment in EMS training for staff and up-to-date emergency equipment makes exploring the Parkway a safer experience for all visitors.
Bass Lake Comfort Station Access: Milepost 294 - Through this funding, the Foundation keeps the restrooms at Bass Lake on the grounds at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park clean and accessible for visitors year-round.
Doughton Park Bridge Construction: Grassy Gap is a favorite hiking area for many, but the crossing at Basin Creek can be difficult with only a makeshift log bridge available to hikers periodically. A permanent 30-foot bridge will be installed to greatly improve the experience for trekkers.
Arborist Incident Response & Hazard Tree Removal Program: Last year, the Husqvarna Group of Charlotte, N.C., generously donated $10,000 in chainsaws and other equipment to the Park Service for use in clearing trees after severe weather events along the Parkway. The Foundation will provide funds for a trailer that will transport this equipment to sites in need of attention.
In addition to projects along the Parkway, the Foundation supports Kids in Parks and musical programming at the Blue Ridge Music Center. These programs educate a new generation of park stewards and instill pride in our cultural heritage. For more, visit www.kidsinparks.com or www.blueridgemusiccenter.org.