Steward Story: Growing up on the Blue Ridge Parkway

April 20, 2018

The Blue Ridge Parkway leaves each of us with special memories and a deep connection to the mountains. For Doris Luening, that bond was made when she and her family lived near Mount Mitchell as her father and uncle helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930s. Here is her story:

Doris Luening was only five years old when she spent a year on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but even today she can direct you straight to the site of the camp that she and her family called home while her father and uncle helped construct the new roadway. 

Just north of the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park, a gate spans the faded road that leads to the spot where a collection of cabins and a bunkhouse once stood. The lodgings were built for the crews who took on the hard work of clearing trees, blasting rock, and moving earth to give shape to what locals called “The Scenic.” Doris’s father, James Erwin Asbury, and uncle, Nesbitte Samuel Asbury, came to the monumental project with Nello Teer Construction Company, which was awarded the first Blue Ridge Parkway construction contract. 

James and “Uncle Neb,” as the family called him, were shovel operators, running the complex machines on precarious hillsides to dig out rock and dirt, making way for the paving to come. “In 1935, if you had a job, you were a lucky dog. A lot of people didn’t,” Doris explains. “It was the depths of the Great Depression when this Parkway started. It was a wonderful gift to many people for creating jobs.”

While the Parkway provided steady work for her dad and uncle from 1935 to 1940, it gave Doris a gift of exploration and adventure. There were plenty of young families on the mountain to form a tight-knit community. “You think of being atop Mount Mitchell as a lonely wild place, and you’re being a wild child,” says Doris, “but there were people to play with there and we did.” 

She, her parents, and younger sister lived in a three-room cabin heated by a pot belly stove. Her uncle and aunt were just a few cabins away. Doris and her sister named the resident wild turkey “Tom,” and called him their pet, laying out bread crumbs on a stump so they could watch him eat. The kids rode bikes and played with blocks on the floors of each other’s cabins. Doris had special instructions to watch out for snakes to keep her sister safe. When family and friends came to visit their remote outpost, they hiked to the tower atop Mount Mitchell. Doris even remembers visiting the worksite and riding in a dump truck with one of the workers as he released earth over a steep drop off. “It was scary and thrilling,” she says. 

The excitement and charm of those times have never left her memory, and in 2014, Doris and her husband, David, established the James Erwin Asbury and Nesbitte Samuel Asbury Endowment to give back to the place that has played an important role in her family’s history.

“My dad and uncle worked on the Parkway for five years, and it was a wonderful time period,” Doris says. “They loved the value of being outside on the Parkway and working, and what it did for the surrounding areas and the people. That’s why we created the endowment. We’d like our family to remember them, and remember that they helped create this park, because it’s a gift to all of us.”

Leave a Legacy

Giving back to the Parkway is a meaningful way to celebrate your personal connection to the journey. In 2014, Doris and David Luening created an endowment to honor her father and uncle. To learn more about how you can leave a legacy, contact Ashley Edwards at (866) 308-2773, ext. 170, or via e-mail


Tell us your Parkway Story



Digitize Historical Maps and Drawings to Provide Online Access

The Blue Ridge Parkway has more than 5,000 original maps and drawings dating from 1934 to the present. Many of the older maps and drawings, located in the parks engineering offices and archives,  are not digitized and are in very poor condition.   With your support, you can fund the work of archivists who will locate, identify, pack and ship historic maps and drawings to National Park Service’s Denver Service Center for inventorying and digitizing. Digital copies will be made accessible to the public and staff online. 
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Mabry Mill Complex Repairs

Mabry Mill is the beloved centerpiece of a collection of fascinating historical structures at milepost 171 in Virginia. In fact, the rustic mill reflected in the adjacent pond is said to be the most photographed scene on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 
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Rehab Picnic Area at Asheville Visitor Center

The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at milepost 384 in Asheville is a popular destination for visitors to learn more about the scenic route and shop. Your support will make it an even more welcoming place by hardening the path and providing more picnic tables for visitors, including those who need increased accessibility. Our original goal for this project was $22,000, but after a generous donation only $12,000 is still needed. Donate today
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Automated External Defibrillators for emergencies

With a gift, you can provide Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for rangers to use in case of emergencies within the park. Donations will also ensure training programs for National Park Service staff on the proper use of this life-saving equipment. Our goal for this project is $60,000. Please help save lives on the Parkway. Give today
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Bat Survey

FUNDED THANKS TO YOU!   Your help is needed to save an important, but rarely seen resident of our Blue Ridge Mountains—bats. You might never glimpse these nocturnal friends unless you’re enjoying an evening by the campfire. Even then, you could miss them fluttering overhead as they go about one of their many important jobs in our ecosystem—snacking on bugs that can harm us and beetles and moths that damage our forests.
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Parkway Trail Maps

With your support for this project, visitors will find single-sheet trail guides to help them explore and learn more about 16 popular hiking destinations along the Parkway, including Humpback Rocks, Otter Creek and James River, Roanoke Valley, Cumberland Knob, Julian Price Park, Linville Falls, Mount Pisgah, and Waterrock Knob.
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Crabtree Falls Interpreter-in-Residence

With the addition of an interpreter-in-residence at Crabtree Falls Campground, milepost 339, the National Park Service will be able to expand its services for visitors, including demonstrations, campfire programs, guided hikes, and more. This popular spot has seen an increase in campers in recent years, making it the perfect place to launch this new program designed to share a greater understanding of the national park with those who visit. The total fundraising goal for this project is $20,000. Donate
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Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Estate Maps

Each year, the Foundation prints and distributes maps of the Cone estate to help guide visitors on the 25 miles of carriage trails and share the past of the historic gem. Your gift will ensure more visitors can appreciate the backstory and beauty of this park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fundraising goal for this project is $5,000. Donate
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Moses H. Cone Memorial Park: Bass Lake Accessibility Ramp

The flat loop trail around picturesque Bass Lake is a popular destination for High Country residents and visitors alike. Unfortunately, the ramp that leads to the trail from the parking area creates an obstacle for guests with limited mobility. Your donation will provide safer access to a cherished place.  Donate
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Blue Ridge Music Center Lighting System

Lighting plays a vital role in the many aspects of the Blue Ridge Music Center's operation. You can make the venue, exhibits, and even the parking lot shine with support for these critical enhancements.
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Milepost Music

With your help, summer Sunday afternoons will be filled with mountain music at popular destinations along the Parkway, allowing the Blue Ridge Music Center to reach a wider audience of visitors. Akin to the down-home Midday Mountain Music presentations at the Music Center, this free series of intimate outdoor concerts will showcase local musicians playing traditional music in Virginia at Humpback Rocks, Peaks of Otter and Mabry Mill, and in North Carolina at Doughton Park Picnic Area and the Asheville Visitor Center.
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Trail Rover Program

This season, volunteer rovers will protect peregrine falcons at Devils Courthouse and rare plants at Craggy Gardens and Rough Ridge by educating visitors about these important ecological sites. Your generosity can ensure the rovers are equipped with the supplies they need, including hand-held radios, backpacks, rain gear, and first-aid kits. The remaing goal for this project is $4,000.  Donate
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Trail Rover Program

This season, volunteer rovers will protect peregrine falcons at Devils Courthouse and rare plants at Craggy Gardens and Rough Ridge by educating visitors about these important ecological sites. Your generosity can ensure the rovers are equipped with the supplies they need, including hand-held radios, backpacks, rain gear, and first-aid kits. Our goal for this project is $5,000.
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Mount Pisgah Platform Reconstruction

Along the popular Mount Pisgah Trail, visitors can take in stunning mountain views from a wooden observation deck. Over its 40 years in use and thousands of visitors, the platform has seen better days. Patch work on the deck has become extensive, and it is time to replace the structure. With a donation for this project, you will fund the reconstruction of the platform to provide a safe and enjoyable stop for trekkers.
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The Bluffs Restaurant: Ongoing Support

Thanks to tremendous support for this revitalization project, The Bluffs Restaurant is open again.  The Foundation holds a historic lease for the National Park Service facility and is responsible for ongoing maintenance and improvements. You can support this beloved destination by making a donation to assist with the upkeep of the circa-1949 building. As part of our committment to sustainabillity, we will undertake projects to increase energy efficiency in the restaurant.
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Viewshed Restoration

The Parkway’s designers created astounding roadside overlooks as hallmarks of the national park. Today, many are hidden by years of tree growth. With your help, arborist crews will clear overgrown vegetation at designated vistas.
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Volunteer Supplies & Training

Parkway volunteers fill a wide range of roles within the park, from operating chainsaws and repairing trails to serving as rover at popular visitation sites. By lending their time and talents, volunteers make the Blue Ridge Parkway a better and more beautiful place for everyone. With a gift, you can provide the supplies, training, and tools volunteers need to  rejuvenate sites and help visitors all along the Parkway.
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No matter where you are, webcams can keep you connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway. To provide park views year-round, we are asking for your support to fund the installation of state-of-the-art webcameras, like the unit at The Bluffs Restaurant, at additional key locations along the scenic route.  Our goal for this project is $20,000. Please donate today! Give  
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Trails & Views Forever Program

As the National Park Service faces an astonishing price tag to repair all aspects of the Blue Ridge Parkway, coupled with impending budget constraints, care of the trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and overlooks are falling to the bottom of the long list of priorities. That means, the places you enjoy nature on the Parkway desperately need your help!
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Blue Ridge Parkway Outdoor Guide

Printed annually, the Blue Ridge Parkway Outdoor Activity Guide features trail maps, safety information, and adventure opportunities. It is an essential guide to a well-planned Parkway excursion. With your support, the guide will be updated with new maps and information and made available by the National Park Service at visitor centers for free.
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