New Blue Ridge Pkwy. Plan — “Happy Motoring” Only?

The Blue Ridge Parkway recently went through a park planning process and environmental impact review, and has released a Draft Management Plan that will set the stage for park management well into the future. Cyclists from near and far should take the time to comment on this plan, as it could have near-permanent impact on bicycling within the park, and on the Parkway itself.

Most troubling is an over-arching reference to the Parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience…”

The Parkway was formed through legislation in 1936. Its managers seem to have a vision of retaining a “golden age” of that time. But let’s be realistic, a “traditional driving experience” in 1936 was far different than how users would choose to enjoy the Parkway in the 21st century.

Motorized vehicles should not be the only way promoted to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Draft Plan also states that the Blue Ridge Parkway is applying for National Historic Landmark status, as a way to manage the Parkway under the strain of diminishing National Park budgets. But this designation sets a bad precedent — one that cannot be easily undone. Under this status, any changes within the Parkway will go under intense historic and environmental review, called Section 106 process. This could halt or stagnate trail building, road maintenance, or future improvements for bicycle access. In addition, other National Parks could begin using this designation to preserve their status quo. Despite the growing interest in bicycling, Park managers wouldn’t have to, or perhaps be able to, accommodate cyclists or other non-motorized and alternative transportation users.

Parkway management’s preferred plan is Alternative B. None of the options proposed…

  • A = no change
  • B = promoting the “driving experience”
  • C = partnership with local economies

…are entirely bicycle-friendly, but B is the least bicycle-friendly of all.

The Draft Plan also fails to recognize the economic vitality that cycling brings to the Parkway and its surrounding communities.

We appreciate that the Parkway is overwhelmed and underfunded, in trying to meet the needs of almost 20 million annual visitors. But on all counts, this Draft Plan fails to meet the vision created by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which includes a goal of “Connecting Americans to the Great Outdoors.” It further derails Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis’s “Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement” — which challenges Park managers to:

  • expand the use of our National Parks for outdoor recreation;
  • connect parks in or near urban areas through public transportation, and pedestrian and bike paths; and,
  • decrease carbon footprint, and showcase the value of renewable energy.

What You Can Do

Submit written comments on the Blue Ridge Parkway Draft Management Plan by December 16, to:

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

The League of American Bicyclists has provided a ready-made email for you to submit your comment via CapWiz.

Or formally submit comments through the on-line system, answering the following questions:

Question 1: What proposals or aspects do you like/dislike about the alternatives in this Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (DGMP/EIS)?

I can  support proposed Option C only if comprehensive changes are made to include and promote bicycling, walking and other non-motorized forms of transportation as an integral part of the Parkway’s mission.

As a cyclist, I cannot support the over-arching goals presented in the Draft Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement.

First, a National Historic Landmark designation is the wrong way to protect the Parkway. This status will create obstacles and bureaucratic red tape, and entomb the Parkway in a virtual time capsule. Instead, we should trust the good judgment and stewardship of future generations to preserve and protect this treasure in perpetuity, while meeting the changing needs of our citizens.

Second, Park managers need to understand that the legislation that created the Parkway as a “driving experience” doesn’t fully meet the needs of today’s Parkway users, or potential users. The Parkway shouldn’t be promoted as a car-only roadway, but should meet the National Park Service’s Call to Action and Secretary Salazar’s vision of Connecting Americans to the Great Outdoors. By promoting and accommodating cycling and other forms of alternative transportation, Parkway managers will provide interactive and lasting experiences with one of America’s most loved treasures.

Finally, the Draft Plan’s alternatives do not address the growing interest in cycling, and fail to acknowledge the benefits that cycling brings to both the Parkway and surrounding communities. The Blue Ridge Parkway is an international cycling destination, and important recreation facility for surrounding communities; vital to their economies, and to provide them with healthy lifestyle opportunities.

Merely allowing cycling on the Parkway is not enough and the message to promote active, healthy use of the facility must be an integral part of the core management plan.

Question 2: Do you have any suggestions for improving the preferred alternative in this DGMP/EIS? If so, what are they?

Parkway management should:

1) halt the National Historic Landmark application process;

2) recognize and promote cycling in the Draft Management Plan as a viable and important aspect of Parkway visitation;

3)modify the  Draft Management Plan as presented and work with cyclists, the surrounding communities and the general public to meet the needs of today’s changing world. The plan should have a goal of building cycling and alternative transportation into the park planning process in order to meet the National Park Service’s Call to Action and Secretary Salazar’s vision for Connecting American’s to the Great Outdoors.

Question 3: Do you have any other comments related to this DGMP/EIS?

[Feel free to elaborate and expand your comments here]

Comments are due December 16, 2011.

The League of American Bicyclists has provided a ready-made email for you to submit your comment via CapWiz.

Further Reading:

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21 comments… add one
  • I’m disappointed that the plan does not adequately address the needs of cyclists. Please include us in your planning!

  • I agree that all can share the Parkway. Im looking forward to taking the Motorcycle out there in the spring.

  • Our club in Beech Mountain bikes the Pkwy frequently, and enjoys the safety and scenery it offers. It is used by many individual cyclists and several tour groups as well. We should be the squeaky wheel now and voice our desires to be included in planning for the future use of the BRP.

  • Pay a Highway Use and get insurance and I’ll share the road.

  • What is interesting is comments such as “Pay a Highway Use and get insurance and I’ll share the road” really show ignorance in communities, I myself am a cyclist and I pay “a lot” in taxes for road improvements and new roads. I am so tired of legislation and ignorant people who act like “cyclist” have no rights because we don’t pay! Well, we do pay! We own cars, houses, and we pay our fair share and more. Cycling is not an inexpensive sport and I will ride on the street with traffic during rush hour if I feel like it. As far as the BRP I will write my letter and I will have others I live 15 miles for the BRP and I ride it often. Save the BRP before they “closed minded” people ruin it!

  • I used to live in Virginia and rode
    My bike on the parkway almost weekly. Bikes and pedestrians are just as important as a driver on the BRP. And regarding the tax comment, of course I pay taxes. A higher percentage than most. Medical school taught me that you should never state something as true unless you know it to be (I.e. look up your facts).

  • WNC, come on back when cars and direct taxes on cars actually pay en toto for the roads they use. No, it’s not even close. Until then, keep sucking up the huge auto subsidies, but be quiet about it. Someone might find out and make you actually pay!

    I suspect it’ll be a long,long time before you come back under those conditions.

  • We do pay road use taxes WNC. Think all of us ride bikes 100% of the time?

  • Please refer to the original article and the comments that follow that article. There is a lot of information left out and a lot of misrepresentation. Very poor journalism. The fact that our cycling community just forwards this stuff without understanding is exactly why the alarmist use us to promote their agendas. We have safe and free access to the parkway…and neither of those are being threatened by this draft.

  • J.Viscount:

    If you take time to read the report, it’s all too clear that Parkway Management is pushing the historical motoring experience – not biking, walking and they show their cards by closing peripheral trails and access. The Historic Landmark status is an attempt to make sure it will be impossible to make any changes that might make the Parkway safer for non-motorized users in the future.

    Parkway Management never states they’re against cycling explicitly but the implied message in the massive report is clear: they want to see cars on the Parkway as they have for the past 75 years and if everyone else stays home, it’s o.k. with them.

    I would encourage you to review Anne Mitchell Whisnant’s blog (listed above) for an in-depth analysis and discussion.

  • Walkman,

    I only asked that the reader refer to the original article and the comments being made at the end of that article. The author’s language is at best vague, alarming, and missing many facts making it difficult to have an intelligent discussion. And please understand, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t comment. I’m only suggesting that a letter written after reading the draft in detail would be much different than the letter written after reading this article as written. Forget the boiler plate answers the author wants you to give. Read the draft and then make your own decision where you stand. I applaud you for doing just that even though we disagree. I hope we can agree that as a community we should demand fair reporting with all the facts if we are going to be asked to comment or support the argument.

    Now I’m never one to miss the opportunity for a good argument so let me respond to your comments.

    I am taking time to read the report…all 642 pages of it. So far, I don’t see Parkway Management pushing anything. I for one do not think it is unreasonable to consider the motoring experience since the parkway was originally designed as a scenic motorway. I believe that “Share the Road” means that both cycling and motoring should be considered in future planning of any roadway. As far as trails go, I like the cards they show. Alternative B states:
    • Work in partnership with the managers of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to avoid sensitive resource areas by relocating some trail sections. Work with volunteer organizations and the state of North Carolina to complete the Mountains to – Sea Trail within the parkway boundary where feasible.
    As this article suggest, PM has “tentatively selected Alternative B” which the author calls “the least bicycle friendly” alternative. What the article failed to state was that Alternative B includes the following statements:
    • Continue to allow bicycling on the main parkway road and other parkway roads, recognizing that bicyclists would be sharing the road with higher volumes of motorized traffic, especially in the more urbanized areas of the parkway.
    • Pursue development of a paved, multiuse trail parallel to but separate from the parkway in the Boone/Blowing Rock area to enhance opportunities for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely recreate in the parkway corridor where traffic levels are higher and opportunities to link to regional trail systems are available.
    Contrary to what the author wants you to believe, Alternative B sounds very bicycle friendly. Additionally, the author states, “The draft plan focuses exclusively on the Parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience” This is not what the “draft” focuses on. This is what Alternative C focuses on. And again, PM is tentatively selecting Alternative B.
    As far as the historic designation…that’s more a money thing than a “never gonna allow change” thing. Sure it’s harder to make changes under such designation but then again, I’m OK with the parkway just the way it is right now.

    And finally, you state that the implied message is “They want cars on the parkway”…Duh! Of course they want to see cars on the parkway as they have for the last 75 years. So do the businesses along the parkway and in the towns and communities linked by the parkway. Cyclists represent 1% of parkway traffic. In what other world would 1% become the focus of anything?

    I hope to read the blog you linked but I still have 487 pages left in the draft and I’m a slow reader. 🙂

  • thanks VA Bike Fed for bringing this to our attention.

    p.s. re j. viscount comment: “Cyclists represent 1% of parkway traffic. In what other world would 1% become the focus of anything?” – it’s tough to find many statements that are more shortsighted and blinkered than this one!

  • Times have changed, but the Blue Ridge Parkway is still no place for bicycles. It’s not presumptuous to presume that the Blue Ridge Parkway is for motorized vehicles. Actually it’s a correct interpretation of it’s intended purpose. On the other hand, it’s quite presumptuous for a bicyclist to act as if he has the right of way on a road that was not intended for non-motorized vehicles. I ride and enjoy my bicycle, but seriously, they will never become a serious transportation option. They are fun, provide great exercise, make great racing, but yes, times have changed and the bicycle is not a realistic or feasible transportation device. Times have changed, the first motorcycles were bicycles with engines bolted on, and look at how they have changed with the times. They evolved into the “motor” cycle.

  • I love to cycle on the parkway. My favorite ride is from Grandfather Mountain to Asheville, stay overnight in a local hotel, eat in a restaurant and cycle back the next day. It’s great exercise and boosts the local economy.

    I have found the motorist on the parkway to be less “angry” than motorist in the cities/towns toward cyclists or anyone. And since there is limited cell phone service on the parkway, the drivers actually pay more attention to the road.

    I have met quite a number of cyclists coming from Canada and other parts of the US using the parkway as a destination for multiple days of riding….cyclists boosting the economy and not polluting the environment.

    As to taxes, I pay taxes on 5 automobiles as well as the NC gasoline tax.

    I would encourage more of you to cycle on the parkway. It’s the best training ground on the East Coast.

  • Mike,


    I can’t disagree with Dave Perry any more strongly: if you look at the history of the Parkway, (and I’ll reference Anne Mitchell Whisnant’s blog, link above, who has written two books on the subject) the Parkway was designed as an economic engine for the backwoods mountain settlements of the thirties as much as a transportation corridor.

    Today, I think most would agree that this role as a job provider for the little towns like Montebello, Little Switzerland, Meadows of Dan and Laurel Springs has only grown.

    Who has more economic impact on those communities today: the driver using the Parkway as a shortcut to get from Bedford to their job in Roanoke or as a quick way to get to their summer chalet in Blowing Rock or the bicyclist who is taking ten days to ride from Ashland to Cherokee? I’ll also point out that the Parkway draws riders from around the world. How much money do you think they leave behind? I’ll also point out that the Parkway draws riders from around the world. How much money do you think they leave behind?

    If you have suggestions on more beautiful routes to cycle, I’m all ears, Dave!

    I would argue that the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most epic BIKE rides in the United States. Not only is the scenery spectacular (and much more noticeable while riding at 12 mph from the saddle of a bike, than in your car). Compared to the average country road, I feel it’s safer riding on the BRP with a 45 MPH speed limit and no trucks or commercial traffic. Try riding on most rural arterials for some fun.

    Could there be improvements to make the BRP experience even better for cyclists? Absolutely. Adding some stripes or wider shoulders on long uphills would make the experience even better. Promoting side paths and trails would encourage more use.

    If they get the Historic Landmark status on the parkway, little things like a wider shoulder where justified will never happen; NHL status will create so much red tape – as if there isn’t enough already – it will take a study commission to agree on what shade of white paint is historically accurate when they want to stripe the road surface. Ridiculous!

    That’s really the point of all this. The proposed report has a chance to promote system wide national park goals of promoting active healthier lifestyles and getting folks off their duffs and the BRP is well positioned to help this mission. Instead, the implied message of this report is the myopic position of drive, drive, drive and keep it that way forever, Amen.

    Having gone through the report, I feel it’s a great treatise of how to look back sixty years rather than into the future. I hope we can help the BRP get their heads out of the past and into the twenty-first century. Though the car was the king of the last half of the twentieth century, times are a-changin’.

  • Re: River…I didn’t make a statement. I asked a question. Maybe you just don’t have the answer. I know I don’t.

    Re: Dave Perry…hard to believe you’re a cyclists. I’ll go along with it because you say so but I don’t know any other cyclists with such a misinformed mindset.

    Even though I disagree with Walkman’s “assumption” of what the Parkway Management is trying to do, we can both agree that Dave Perry is way off base, that Mike’s idea of fun is the same as ours, and that the we are fortunate to have such an epic venue for cycling right here in our own backyard.

  • TO Dave Perry: My bike has become my transportation to work. And soon, it will also be used for my daily errands. So, not a “serious transportation option”?

    And a person has a right to ride a bike. Driving a car is a privilege.

    Lastly, are you equating the 1930s to the 2000’s? Cycling has had a resurgence in popularity that cannot be dismissed. Do you really even ride a bike?

  • And we wonder why so many Americans are obese? Proposing legislation such as this encourages a sedentary lifestyle. And to the people who hate cyclists…we are not going away so you might as well join us!!! I will be writing my letter!

  • I pay taxes. I own a house, four cars, 2 bicycles, and pay though the rear on federal taxes. I also visit the Asheville area frequently and almost every time a ride or two on the Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the plans. My visits usually keep me there from a few days to a week. During this week I am paying $$$ for lodging, food, activities, fuel (for the car that I drive), entertainment and more. I think there are several thousands of people that have the same plans, plans to spend money in the local economy. I am sure closing the BRP would affect several communities along it’s path. The government should think about the big picture in their plans. The system is already struggling; why cut out a part of the source of income for the communities and revenue for the tax system?

  • Hellooooo, no one is proposing legislation. This is about adopting a new management plan. Is anyone reading the plan and the alternatives or is everyone just assuming the stories headline is a statement. It’s not, it’s a question, hence the question mark at the end of it. The alternative that parkway management is tentatively recommending is the one that does more than doing nothing while at the same time will allow for expansion of cycling as well as economic opportunities for the communities along the parkway.
    Balance is key and and I feel they are working to find that. Others would disagree with that and that’s OK. I for one am glad to see all of the positive cycling comments in the alternative (see my response above) especially since we as a group represent such a small percentage of the economic impact. No doubt we contribute, but we represent approx 1% of the visitors on the parkway. Hard to believe that 1% is out contributing 99%. However, in the end that’s not what this is about right now. It’s about how we want the parkway managed in the future. We need to focus an that on make our comments relative to that purpose. All I’m saying, and have been saying, is don’t be fooled by these inflammatory headlines. Read the draft…then write to share your opinion but if you write a letter about kids being fat these days it’s going to be filed away quickly in the circular file cabinet on the floor next to the desk.

  • I am a high school teacher in Fairfax Virginia, an avid adventure cyclist, and a property owner right on the Little River near the town of Riner Virginia (nearly 5 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway). I have been riding my bicycle on the Parkway for nearly 15 years. I have done numerous bike tours up and down the parkway. I find that it is one of the few places cyclists are still openly welcome on the open road. I am truly in a good place when I am riding to the Peaks of Otter, Touring to the Floyd Fest with a quick stop off at Chateau Morrisette, or a trip from Georgia to the skyline drive in a mere 3 weeks. I have had many stimulating conversations with forest service staff, motorists, motorcyclists, and hikers along the way. Riding my bicycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway sparks many of the best cycling memories I have. I hope that the Parkway will continue to stay that way for my children and my grandchildren so I can share the lovely cycling experiences I have had throughout my life, with them.

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