Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway releases General Management Plan

Yesterday the National Park Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Blue Ridge Parkway’s General Management Plan for review and comment. Public comments on the document will be accepted through December 16th.

The draft plan provides comprehensive guidance for perpetuating natural systems, preserving cultural resources, and providing opportunities for quality visitor experiences along the parkway for the next 20+ years. This is the parkway's first comprehensive management plan in its 75-year history.

The draft plan evaluates a range of alternatives to compare the advantages of one course of action to another. The planning team developed two "action" alternatives (B and C). The third alternative (A) is the "no-action" alternative that describes how the parkway is currently managed, providing a basis for comparing the other alternatives. The comments and suggestions that many of you provided earlier were considered when developing the action alternatives presented in the plan.

Alternative B

Alternative B has been identified as the National Park Service's preferred management approach. The preferred alternative emphasizes the original parkway design and traditional driving experience, while enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities and regional natural resource connectivity, and providing modest improvements to visitor services.

In essence, the preferred alternative seeks to reinvest in the parkway's aging infrastructure, update inadequate visitor services and facilities, and protect a biologically diverse natural environment that is only surpassed by two other units in the national park system. This reinvestment echoes the original thinking of the parkway founders during the Great Depression — to invest in building the parkway to create a catalyst for long-term, regional economic vitality.

Here are just a few issues that will impact hikers and campers under the Parkway's preferred plan:

* 10,139 acres (12.3%) of parkway lands would be designated as recreation zone in order to enhance outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors. This would be primarily accomplished by accommodating a wider range of trail-based recreational activities, which would likely attract more visitors to these parkway lands. Certain trails would be improved to allow for mountain biking, horseback riding, or simply to withstand more hikers. Additional backcountry campsites, picnic tables, restrooms (i.e., vault toilets), and interpretive media would also be found within these areas.

* All of the parkway’s nine campgrounds would be upgraded to provide showers and RV water and electrical hookups, which would require expanded sewage treatment facilities and electrical lines.

* A paved multiuse trail would be developed parallel to the parkway along portions of the Highlands segment in the Boone/Blowing Rock area. This path would be separate from the roadway to minimize interaction between pedestrians/bicyclists and automobiles and to maintain the historic integrity of the parkway’s designed landscapes. Along this segment, the trail would extend approximately 16 miles from milepost 281 to milepost 297.

* The parkway would provide designated parking spaces for visitors accessing trail systems along the Asheville segment of the parkway. This would reduce the effects of vegetation damage along the road shoulder caused by the high frequency of vehicles currently parking in unpaved areas.

Alternative C

Under alternative C, parkway management would be more integrated with the larger region’s resources and economy. More emphasis would be placed on reaching out to communities and linking to regional natural, recreational, and cultural heritage resources and experiences.

The parkway would continue to be managed to retain the fundamental character of the traditional designed landscape and scenic driving experience. However, a variety of more modern recreational and visitor service amenities would be provided, primarily concentrated in visitor services areas. As a result, portions of some recreation areas would be redesigned.

Comments can be submitted in the following ways:

1) Submit comments on the NPS planning website by selecting the "Open for Comment" link on the left.

2) Submit written comments by mail to:

Superintendent Philip A. Francis, Jr.
Blue Ridge Parkway
199 Hemphill Knob Road
Asheville, NC 28803

3) Submit comments during one four upcoming public meetings:

Date: Wednesday November 2, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Folk Art Center, Milepost 382, Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, NC

Date: Thursday November 3, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, 7738 U.S. 321 Bus, Blowing Rock, NC

Date: Wednesday November 9, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Nelson Memorial Library, 8521 Thomas Nelson Highway, Lovingston, VA

Date: Thursday November 10, 2011
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Location: Brambleton Center, 3738 Brambleton Avenue, Roanoke, VA


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