Celebrating Blue Ridge Parkway’s 75th Anniversary in Asheville, NC
Known as “America’s Favorite Drive” the Blue Ridge Parkway is celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2010 and there is no finer place to partake in its beauty than here in Asheville, NC and especially during the fall season. So it is no wonder that thousands are flocking to Asheville and Western North Carolina to do just that. The Blue Ridge Parkway is accessible from all directions here in this mountain town named #1 place to view the fall foliage according to Tripadvisor. As you take in the breathtaking scenery of this winding road the beauty is added to by knowing some of its history that began 75 years ago. This road being the longest planned road as a single unit is considered a “museum of the managed American countryside” according to the Blue Ridge Parkway website.
In 1935 Stanley Abbott then only 24 years old and a landscape architect from New York was given this amazing assignment to complete. Abbott is now remembered as “the father of the Blue Ridge Parkway”. The idea was to create a road that linked together some of the National Parks and recreation areas. Stanley then also suggested that views aroun d the Parkway were to be preserved for motorists to be able to view the changing Appalachian scenery undisturbed. So on September 11, 1935 the project began. It was first named Appalachian Scenic Highway and construction began near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina. The name was later changed to the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was added to the National Park Service. Work was slow and steady with much of the labor being manual as “The Labor Works Project” played an important role in the development at this time. The idea was to put as many men to work as possible so much of the labor was done manually instead of using machines. Many other New D eal work programs also played a large part of the beginning of this project. President Roosevelt is responsible for this part of participation in the project.
In the 1940’s as World War II came to be the project would almost come to a halt as many of the men involved joined the military. A few stayed behind and continued the work but eventually at the end of the war many men returned and the construction was up and running and the project was once again fully underway. By the 1950’s only one half of the Parkway was completed when Mission 66 funds came along and work was resumed and almost completed by 1966. The remaining part of the road was presenting a challenge as it was to run around Grandfather Mountain, NC. So not to disturb the mountain a viaduct was to be built and this took another 20 years to see the project come to its fruition. In 1987 the Linn Cove Viaduct was complete and so was the 469 miles of The Blue Ridge Parkway. This beautiful scenic drive begins at Shenandoah National Park and ends in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Asheville boasts 170 miles of the Parkway going from north to south and it can be seen from many points around town with 5 entrances to enter into this wonder in the sky.
From your entrance to the parkway you can choose to go north or south depending on your choice of destination and how you would like to spend your day. Either direction offers a chance to stop and look out at a few of the 382 overlooks. Along the way you will go through some of the 26 tunnels and cross over a few of the over 150 bridges. You will reach heights of over 5000 feet and wander through tree lined parts that will open up and provide sights of the mountain vista that are beyond words to describe. You are traveling along some of the world’s oldest mountains so take time to relax and feel connected to your surroundings.
One way to enter and begin your journey is to head east on 240 and get off of exit 9 and enter the Parkway. You will want to head south for this adventure. Here you will be able to stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor’s Center where you will find maps, souvenirs and restroom facilities. You can make this trip during an afternoon drive or make it an all day adventure with a picnic. If you prefer eating indoors as you are heading south you can stop at the only inn and restaurant, The Pisgah Inn and eat in their glass walled dining room with views that are breathtaking. Heading on south you will find it hard not to stop at almost every lookout point and this can be done without getting out of your car by driving through the parking area that is designed for drive by viewing as well.
Keeping in mind that the parkway was built to link you to National Parks and Forests the following route continuing south will lead you to a few national treasures. Within an hour’s drive from Asheville on this portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway you will reach Hwy 276 on the left that will take you into the Pisgah Forest . Before this turn off you will be able to view Cold Mountain to the right. Continuing down 276 you will find there are a few points of interest that are worth stopping to enjoy. On this route of ancient forests you will find the Cradle of Forestry where you can wander through old cabins and walk trails through the woods. Next stop will be Sliding Rock where you can slide down a natural water slide on a huge rock and land in the cold mountain water. If you prefer to just watch there are two viewing decks for your enjoyment and photo taking opportunity. As you continue down the mountain you will hear before you see Looking Glass Falls one of the most photographed in the area. You can view the falls from your car or the upper viewing deck or walk down the steps leading to the bottom where you can also play in the water underneath. Here you are in Transylvania County, Western North Carolina that has over 250 waterfalls if you would like to plan another day of adventure.
A short distance from Looking Glass Falls you will want to make a sharp right and visit The Fish Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery with its visitor’s center and educational trail with wildlife exhibits. Back in your car as you continue down and out of the forest if you still have some energy to spare you might stop and hike to the top of Looking Glass Rock season permitting. This area is known for the Peregrine Falcon and the mountain closes its trails during nesting season. You are likely to see one flying overhead as you wander around the Pisgah National Forest.
As your adventure in this direction draws to a close on this journey of the Blue Ridge Parkway you have the option of stopping to camp at Davidson River Campground on the right before you exit the forest. Campsites are set along the mountain stream. Or to head back to Asheville continue on to exit the forest and make a left onto 280 for 15.5 miles to I-26 that will take you back to I-240 with exits all around Asheville. You may find you still have time left in the day to enjoy a ride north towards Grandfather Mountain or save that for tomorrows adventure. Asheville is your gateway to many day excursions and adventures most of which cost nothing but your time and that time will be well spent. Here many have said they feel what it is like to be in nature and amongst nature and on top of the world. So pack your bags and leave your cares behind and come see for yourself what awaits you.Photos and story by - Deborah Pustorino