There’s been some good news for the Blue Ridge Parkway in the last two weeks. Construction crews are now hard at work to build a bypass around the 300-foot crack that closed the Parkway on July 12. The crack, which is six inches wide, several feet deep and 300 feet long, has closed a 20-mile stretch of road between Bull Gap at mile marker 376 and mile marker 356 near Mt. Mitchell State Park, at the height of the summer tourist season. And on August 24, FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway will hold a work day along the closed section of road to clean a rock lined ditch that feeds water into the culvert system in order divert it from the road.
To a region of N.C. with an economy that is heavily dependent on tourism, this is big news.The parkway is the most visited National Park Service unit in the nation, with 15.2 million visitors in 2012. October and July are the busiest months of the year. July 2012 had 1.9 million visitors, and 2 million visitors traveled through in July 2011.
According to engineers working on the site, the crack and eroding slope are likely the result of this summer’s excessive rains which broke a century-long record in July, and a failed culvert. “The engineers are trying to get to the root cause of the problem and re-open the Parkway in time for the fall color season, and we want to do whatever we can to help,” said Dan Wells, chairman of the Asheville Chapter of FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway (FRIENDS). FRIENDS, which was formed 25 years ago, is the only not-for-profit organization devoted to protecting and preserving the Blue Ridge Parkway through education and service projects.
Recently, the National Park Service staff asked Wells and the Asheville Chapter of FRIENDS to help clean one of the rock-lined ditches along the closed section of the Parkway. Wells, who is a retired engineer, was all too happy to organize a Parkway work day on August 24 at 9 a.m. at Bull Gap (Ox Creek Road at Mile Marker 376).
“We spent the spring getting Pisgah Campground ready for visitors,” Wells said. “It’s one of the most visited campgrounds on the Parkway, which means that it gets a lot of wear and tear, but that’s taking a back seat to this.”
What’s so important about drainage ditches? “If the flow of water is not managed, the Parkway will continue to experience road failure as we have seen in Western North Carolina this year due to the excessive rainfall. There’s just too much at stake to let that happen.”
Wells anticipates that the work will take a strong effort and the length of time will be dependent on the number of volunteers that show up.
If you are interested in participating, contact Dan Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bring gloves, hat, insect repellent, boots and long pants, rakes, shovels, snacks, water and lots of energy. “You don’t have to be an expert at anything to become a member of FRIENDS,” Wells said. “You just need to love the Blue Ridge Parkway.”
In the event of rain, the workday will be moved to Friday, August 30, 2013 as the Parkway is now scheduled to open on Saturday, August 31.
To learn more about the important work FRIENDS’ chapters are doing in NC and VA, go to www.FriendsBRP.org or call 540-772-2992. Can’t make it to the August 24 FRIENDS work day? You can still support the Blue Ridge Parkway by visiting the FRIENDS website and becoming an individual, family or corporate member.