By Emma Castleberry
The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation (BRPF) has announced its improvement projects for 2018. Each year, the National Park Service presents the BRPF with a list of critical projects for the Parkway. These projects can range from immediate repair needs at a historic site to opportunities for wildlife studies. “The Foundation staff and Board of Trustees review the list and determine the projects that best fit with our mission to preserve and protect the Parkway,” says Carolyn Ward, CEO of the BRPF. “We focus on four categories of work: education and outreach; natural resource protection; historical and cultural preservation; and visitor amenities.”
This year’s improvements in the visitor amenities category include the highly anticipated reopening of Bluffs Restaurant at Doughton Park near Sparta. “There are very few restaurants on the Parkway,” says Ward. “Reopening the restaurant will be a win for travelers and the nearby communities who rely on the Parkway as an economic driver for their towns.” When Bluffs originally opened in the 1940s, it was a popular stop for Parkway motorists. It closed in 2010 and has since fallen into disrepair. The Foundation seeks the final $250,000 to repair the building and purchase restaurant equipment and furniture.
One project in the education and outreach category is the addition of new exhibits at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center near Cherokee. “The landscape around the visitor center is pristine, and there is so much to tell about its rare ecosystems and history,” says Ward. The stations and displays will provide information about Cherokee history and culture, the biodiversity found at such high elevations and the impact of invasive pests such as the balsam woolly adelgid. The Foundation has a fundraising goal of $38,000 for these new exhibits.
One of this year’s largest projects is the rehabilitation work at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, which includes extensive repairs at historic Flat Top Manor. Built by Moses H. and Bertha Cone in the early 1900s, the estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a hub for recreation and history in the Blowing Rock area. Billie Brandon Howell, a resident of Blowing Rock for 44 years, serves on the steering committee for the project. “I can assure you that every business owner in town will attest to the dynamic impact that visitors at Moses Cone Estate have on our little village,” Howell says. To move forward with additional manor house renovations and grounds work, the Foundation is raising $1 million. In addition to making donations, those who love Cone Park can support rehabilitation efforts by attending the third annual Denim Ball fundraising gala on Friday, August 3, at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock.
“At their core, these projects all address the overall health of the Parkway,” says Ward. “If buildings fall into disrepair, the plants and wildlife are imperiled, trails aren’t safe or there are fewer interpretive programs, visitors and locals have a diminished experience.” Furthermore, visitor experience on the Parkway has a huge economic impact on neighboring communities because tourists bring about $1 billion into the region each year and support around 15,000 jobs.
This year’s list of improvements is long, and Parkway spokesperson Leesa Brandon says the multitude of projects is exciting. “The list as a whole represents the diversity and opportunity in so many areas across the park,” she says, “which speaks to the depth and breadth of the visitor experience as well as the complexity of the park’s management and operations.”
The Foundation needs more than $1.5 million to complete these projects. To donate or learn more, visit brpfoundation.org.