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Blue Ridge Head Scratcher


    You ever read a story and wonder, "What the hell were they thinking?"
    Well, there's one I came across today that spawned that thought. It was a story about the financial plight of the Blue Ridge Parkway that ran in the Asheville Citizen-Times. The main story was about the parkway's financial struggles, a story that has been well-chronicled here and elsewhere. But the kicker, the head-scratcher, was a mention buried deep in the story about a new $9.8 million "destination" center.
    This at a time when the parkway has a $200 million backlog and 45 or 46 positions it can't afford to fill.

   Now, granted, this center, which will include a theater, class-room and interactive exhibits, will be a wonderful addition to the parkway. But will it turn into an island of majesty as the surrounding parkway continues to deteriorate?
    The main driver behind the funding for this facility is U.S. Representative Charles Taylor, the North Carolina Republican who believes the National Park Service should spend $600 million to build a dead-end road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that would allow a handful of families to drive to, rather than be ferried to, family cemeteries that were isolated when Fontana Dam was built in 1943. Never mind that the majority of concerned parties, including the Swain County Commission, would prefer a one-time payout of $52 million that could be used for much more needed projects.
    Anyway, Rep. Taylor thinks this new facility will be swell, and doesn't believe it will cut into the parkway's annual operating budget. Rather, he believes that while the Park Service will be responsible for "exterior roof maintenance, that kind of thing," partnerships and some sort of unspecified fees will pay for its operation, while volunteers will be heavily counted upon for staffing.
    Parkway spokesman Phil Noblitt told the newspaper that it's expected to cost the parkway about $365,000 a year to run the center. And if Congress doesn't approve that funding? "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," he says.
    Perhaps Rep. Taylor would be wiser to abandon his $600 million road to nowhere, agree to the $52 million payout, and divert $200 million to the parkway to wipe out that maintenance backlog. That way the Park Service not only would provide much needed financial assistance to one of its units, which wouldn't be further hamstrung by this new destination center, but it would also save roughly $350 million at the same time.


I agree with you. Why build a multi-million dollar centerpiece on top of a crumbling infrastructure? I think this politician is going after the "sexy" headline grabbing project for his community, rather than the more prudent but less noteworthy long term solution. I have seen the effects of funding cuts along the Parkway. Without maintenance, viewpoints are obstructed by fast growing shrubs that block any meaningful opportunity to view the surrounding mountains. Without the views, the Parkway becomes just a road. Maybe the new visitor center could could have an exhibit of what the Parkway used to look like before it ran out of maintenance money.

What's truly astonishing about this proposal is that the Blue Ridge Parkway already boasts 11 Visitor's Centers, not counting the facilities at Mabry Mill and the shared Oconoluftee VC with Great Smoky Mountains, which I believe makes it the Nationl Park with greatest number of Visitor's Centers in the System. If anything, the Blue Ridge Parkway should be considering *closing* a Visitor's Center or two (such as the James River or Peaks of Otter VC's, which are only about 20 miles apart), rather than building yet another one.

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