Blue Ridge Parkway Celebrates 75 Years

More people visit the Blue Ridge Parkway than visit the Great Smokey Mountains, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone combined.

Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, shared insights into the Parkway during Virginia Press Women’s spring conference in Roanoke, April 23. The Parkway, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, is a half-day’s drive for almost half of the U.S. population.

The Parkway, Francis told VPW, is more than its scenic overlooks. “It’s the places to sleep, eat and the adjacent communities.”

With that in mind, he wanted to involve everyone and “have a big party” for the 75th. The Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Association is leading the effort. As part of the celebration, symposiums are being held to honor the past but also contemplate the future.

As with any good PR event, the Parkway set three goals.

1)      Connect with communities

2)      Stewardship: protecting the Parkway and preserving it for future generations

3)      Financial sustainability.

Francis noted that the visitor experience is the Parkway and their visits to the communities along the Parkway.

But he is concerned that only 11 percent of park visitors are young people.  Also troubling is that 80 percent of visibility has been lost in his lifetime.

Yet the Parkway has much to offer. It has more species of trees than all of Europe. Its biodiversity is great. It has 250 pull-ins to enjoy the Parkway. It’s a designated landscape in that every single mile of it was designed, Francis said.

VPW members had many suggestions to enhance the Parkway as a destination, but Francis noted that the Parkway has two limitations – capacity and process.  Fortunately, it also has Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge Foundation and an anniversary website.