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


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Trails & Views Forever Fund

It gets worse every season. Hiking trails are eroding, and boardwalks are worn out. Campgrounds, picnic areas, and restrooms are showing wear and tear. Overlooks are overgrown. Signs are fading or even missing. The Blue Ridge Parkway is going from rustic to rundown.
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Plant nursery intern

The 80,000-plus acres that make up the Blue Ridge Parkway are home to more than 2,000 plant species. To protect this flora and educate visitors, the National Park Service is preparing to create a plant nursery that can help bolster threatened and rare native plants like the Heller's Blazing Star (pictured). Your gift will create a meaningful learning experience for an intern who will assist park biologists in laying the groundwork for the nursery, including site selection, development of educational materials for visitors, and propagating plants found in the wild. 
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Digitize historical photographs for online viewing

The development of the Blue Ridge Parkway and its evolution over the decades are a fascinating story that is brought to life through photographs dating back to the initial days of construction in the 1930s. Thousands of images in the Parkway's archives are not available for public viewing. This project will begin the process of organizing and digitizing historical park photographs so they can be made available online for everyone to enjoy. 
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Craggy Gardens Outdoor Exhibits

With the recent addition of new interpretive indoor panels, Craggy Gardens Visitor Center features a wealth of fascinating information about the flora and fauna that call the high-elevation area home. But even in the off-season, the popular hiking destination known for its fantastic long-range views is one of the most visited places on the Parkway. Your gift will create much needed outdoor exhibits for visitors who stop by after hours or during the six months of the year when the visitor center is closed. 
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Blue Ridge Parkway Outdoor Guide

Updated annually, the printed Outdoor Activity Guide features trail maps, safety information, bear encounter guidance, and articles on Parkway programs, the Blue Ridge Music Center, and current issues facing the park. The National Park Service offers this 24-page newspaper for free at every visitor center, as well as community outreach events. It is an essential guide to a well-planned Parkway excursion. With your support, 100,000 copies will be printed and made available before the busiest visitation periods of the season.
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Waterrock Knob: New Exhibits at Visitor Center

The Waterrock Knob Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina, occupies a unique position on the Blue Ridge Parkway, having the potential to be either the first or last stop for travelers. With the help of your donation, the National Park Service will install new exhibits to replace the current time-worn displays that feature outdated information. The new exhibits will inform visitors about:
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TRACK Trails on the Parkway

Our Kids in Parks program got its start in 2009 with the opening of the first TRACK Trail at the Asheville Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Today, there are five trails along the route that engage children and their families with the outdoors through activity brochures. You can expand these adventures for future land stewards by supporting the creation of new experiences at two fascinating Parkway sites in Virginia: the James River and Rocky Knob/Mabry Mill. 
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Bee Kind to the Parkway

There’s a buzz in the air as we launch our Bee Kind to the Blue Ridge Parkway initiative! You can help reestablish wildflower display areas so that bees and their pollinator friends can thrive.  Your gift will:
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I Love Craggy Matching Challenge

A rehabilitation project for one of the most popular trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway is underway! A crew with the American Conservation Experience is repairing Craggy Flats Bald Trail, which has become deeply rutted, leading to erosion.
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Centennial Challenge Project: Mabry Mill Flume Repairs

Matching Gift Opportunity! Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it is much more than just a pretty place. The mill and surrounding log structures built by Ed and Lizzie Mabry in the early 1900s are akin to an outdoor museum where visitors can learn about a bygone way of life in the mountains.
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Centennial Challenge Project: Sharp Top Shelter Rehab

Matching Gift Opportunity! In 2017, Congress provided $20 million for projects across the country through the Centennial Challenge program. These funds will be matched by $33 million from more than 50 park partners to improve trails, restore buildings, and increase visitor access to parks. This project has been selected for a Centennial Challenge grant! That  means your contribution will be doubled by matching funds from the federal government, so you can feel twice as good about your gift.
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Centennial Challenge Project: Humpback Rocks Farm Rehab

Matching Gift Opportunity! In 2017, Congress provided $20 million for projects across the country through the Centennial Challenge program. These funds will be matched by $33 million from more than 50 park partners to improve trails, restore buildings, and increase visitor access to parks. This project has been selected for a Centennial Challenge grant! That means your contribution will be doubled by matching funds from the federal government, so you can feel twice as good about your gift.
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Moses H. Cone Memorial Park: Bass Lake Comfort Station

Your donation keeps the restrooms at Bass Lake on the grounds of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park clean and open to visitors year-round. The facility was completed in 2009 thanks to your gifts, and mimicks the architecture of the former laundry room of nearby Flat Top Manor. 
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Blue Ridge Music Center Trees & Picnic Tables

With your help, we will plant a row of mature trees along the hillside of the amphitheater to provide shade for concert-goers and block the sun for performers on the stage. Additionally, picnic tables will be installed to offer daytime visitors a place to enjoy a meal or take a rest after hiking one of the on-site trails. 
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Craggy Gardens Visitor Center Exhibit Revamp

FUNDED! Thank you for your gifts to make the first phase of this project a reality. The work will be accomplished in two phases with the main exhibits slated for installation in the winter of 2017/2018. Additional gifts will help us accomplish phase two! The Craggy Gardens Visitor Center hosts 85,000 visitors annually. Inside the circa-1952 building, the 10-year-old faded and outdated exhibit panels will be replaced by displays that tell the story of the plants and animals in this unique and harsh high elevation environment.
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Give the Plate

You can give a Blue Ridge Parkway specialty license plate to friends and family members who have a vehicle registered in North Carolina. From the $30 plate fee, $20 goes to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to protect and enhance the scenic route. An additional $10 supports the N.C. Department of Transportation Wildflower Program. Your gift is for the initial purchase, and the recipient pays the annual renewal to keep the specialty tag valid.  Here is how it works:
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Renew the Views

We have an exciting announcement, the Renew the Views program is now part of our Trails & Views Forever Fund for the Blue Ridge Parkway! To jump-start the fund, a generous donor has offered a challenge grant of $300,000, but we have a limited time to match the gift. That means your donation will be doubled if you give now. Click here to protect the views, trails, and more!
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Craggy Flats Bald Trail Repairs

FUNDED! Thank you for your gifts to make this project a reality. A crew with the American Conservation Experience has just finished most of the repairs at Craggy Flats Bald Trail during a four-week stint.
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