Our Beleaguered National Parks

The 469 mile long Blue Ridge Parkway is the nation’s most visited national park, and yet funding for it has not increased relative to the economy or to other national parks. Consequently, not only the aesthetic experience of travelers is being degraded, but even their safety is at risk.

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The is no ASPLUNDH or Department of Transportation to come along after ice storms to pull fallen limbs and toppled trees from the Parkway. Large branches that littered Rocky Knob Campground will make for some good firewood to the first campers, but those limbs and trees also fall on the roadway posing risks for accidents. And there is far too little staff to do this kind of cleanup quickly due to longstanding funding cuts to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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Compare this not-uncommon sagging, rotting or fallen rail fence with the intact fence in the header image. In places, the rail fences are entirely rotted away; of course the farmers whose fields are lined by rail fence don’t depend on it to keep their cattle in, and also string at least a single line of barbed wire, as you can see here.

But there is a glimmer of good news: in late January, federal appropriations were made so that the parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be able to hire more seasonal workers to run visitor centers, keep roads and trails maintained and continue funding park programs. From the Asheville Times

The proposed $2.4 billion for national parks, which is a $230 million increase over last year, would send $1.5 million to the parkway and $1.9 million to the Smokies, an 11 percent increase for both parks, the two most visited units in the National Park Service.

“These seasonals will enable us to keep those visitor centers open, providing safety and general orientations to the parkway, and educational and interpretative programming,” Francis said.

“And we will be able to keep our facilities clean, roadsides mowed in a better way, our vistas will be in a better shape, and our law enforcement will be able to provide a higher level of visitor services.”


Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

7 Comments on “Our Beleaguered National Parks

  1. Thanks very for the book, thanks for the signature, thanks for your blog…and if you aren’t afraid of grammar or spelling mistakes, please visit my village…some people think it’s too complicated…I don’t…I’m having great fun blogging and dreaming…”I found where I belong…”
    see you
    Claudine/ Mousie

  2. a shame that the parkway has been let go somewhat, but good news about the funding. both parks are treasures and i visited them often when i lived in carolina.

  3. I stumbled onto your 2003 archives by accident, and I’m so glad. You’re a beautiful writer.



  5. The NPS is soliciting input from citizens by conducting listening tours and also have set up a web page where comments can be entered on how to best spend the new funds. The first stop on the tour occurred in Gatlinburg, TN last Tuesday. You can read about it and follow the link to the NPS site here. It’s important for average citizens to speak their minds concerning the future of our National Parks.

  6. Based on your information about the park funding, I decided to contact my senator to encourage him to support the funding.

  7. The “decay” of the Parkway truly saddens me. It just seems to me that people in general don’t seek outdoor/motoring experiences as they once did.

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