Blue Ridge Parkway - A Source of Excitement In Region Throughout Decade

Blue Ridge Parkway - A Source of Excitement In Region Throughout Decade

President Franklin Roosevelt was only in office a few months when Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia made a radical suggestion to him: build a highway connecting the Great Smoky Mountains and Shennandoah National Parks.


That meeting sparked a controversy that pitted Tennesee against North Carolina in the quest for what would become the Blue Ridge Parkway. When the dust settled, North Carolina - and especially the High Country - emerged the winner.

The idea of a park-to-park highway existed at least as early as 1930, and others proposed it before Byrd. But the politically savvy and powerful Virginia senator had the means to make it a reality. There was little question of how the road should run in Virginia. The great debate that ensued once the Roosevelt Administration committed to the project was over whether it should then run into Tennessee or North Carolina. Even before it was built, people realized the Parkway would be a major economic boon to whatever area received it. The competition was fierce.

The final decision lay in the hands of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. He had a tough choice. Both sides lobbied hard, and his attempts to get an impartial view came back that the two choices were almost evenly matched. A showdown hearing in Washington on Sept. 18, 1934, left the both sides feeling victory was within their grasp.

On Nov. 10, 1934, Ickes issued his decision in letters to the governors of North Carolina and Tennessee. After months of study, he opted for the North Carolina route. He spelled out the reasons, including the fact the North Carolina was more scenic, that Tennessee already had an excellent entrance into the Smokies, and had benefitted from several large New Deal projects, including the TVA.

One of the men pushing hardest for the route which the Parkway now follows was Alleghany County Congressman Robert L. "Fighting Bob" Doughton. He had served in Congress almost 20 years, and was a powerful and wily pro when it came to the workings of the House.

Excitement in the area following Ickes' decision was great. Many did not believe it possible to build a hard-surfaced road on the crest of the Blue Ridge. They were also used to slow-paced government, and were amazed by the speed with which Ickes moved forward on the project.

On Sept. 11, 1935, a group of men climbed out of a truck, crossed a fence and started digging. It was a foggy day, with mist in the air, but the work on building the Blue Ridge Parkway had begun.

Back in Washington, one more battle remained. The House of Representatives stubbornly refused to pass a bill that would put the Parkway under the administration of the National Park Service. Critics argued this should be a locally built and maintained highway. The battle raged, and the bill failed three times to pass.

But the opponents did not reckon with "Fighting Bob" Doughton. After the bill failed for the third time, Doughton pushed parlimentary procedure until it practically howled. Within an hour of its defeat, he had the bill back on the floor of the House. This time, it squeaked through with 145 in favor, 131 against and 147 not voting.

Back home, progress on the Parkway was continuous but not fast. By the end of the decade, work had started on 13 road sections in North Carolina. The first to be completed and opened to visitors was a 7.641 mile stretch between U.S. 21 (Milepost 229.7) and Air Bellows Gap (Milepost 237.15). Some of those first 13 sections, however, were not opened until 1955.

By Jan. 1, 1940, the Parkway in Virginia was completed between Adney Gap (Milepost 136) and the North Carolina line (Milepost 216.9). In North Carolina, where the terrain was rougher, the road was complete from the Virginia line (216.9) to Deep Gap (Milepost 276.4). One small section, between McKinney Gap (Milepost 327.5) and Spruce Pine (Milepost 336.3) was also done. In just over four years, almost 150 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway - nearly a third of its completed length - was finished.

Blue Ridge Parkway - Autumn:

The Blue Ridge Parkway brings you to marvelous places. Just in this region, it is the route to Linville Falls and the almost unspoiled Linville Gorge. There is Doughton Park, with its wonderful lodge and string of hiking trails; the Moses Cone mansion near Blowing Rock, Pricelakeand nearby Price Lake; there is the rustic Northwest Trading Post that offers local crafts and food; and much more.

The dream of building a highway in these mountains dates back to 1911, when work began on the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway. Only eight miles were completed, however, when World War I put an end to the work.

In 1933, Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia took Pres. Franklin Roosevelt on a motor tour through the Shenandoah Mountains. It was then he proposed a road linking the national parks there and in the Great Smokies.

The suggestion came at an excellent time. The country was just beginning to recover from the Depression, and public works projects meant jobs. Work soon began on the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.

The route of the proposed Blue Ridge Parkway became a matter of heated controversy between Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The matter was finally settled by Congress.

On September 11, 1935, a group of men climbed out of a truck and over a rail fence on the Ashe-Alleghany line. The construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway had begun.

That work would take 52 years to complete. There were countless bridges to build and 20 tunnels to blast out of the rock. Mile by mile, section by section, the work progressed. The last link was around Grandfather Mountain. Hugh Morton, the Mountain's owner, steadfastedly fought the government over the environmental impact of the road in this sensitive area.

The result was a compromise called the Linn Cove Viaduct. With 60-mile views in one direction and Grandfather Mountain on the other, it is a wonder to enjoy and visit over and over again.

Some Cautions:

Don't forget the Blue Ridge Parkway is a mountain road. It is well built and basically safe, but there are plenty of winding sections and some quite abrupt changes in elevation.

The 45 mph speed limit is there for a reason: it's a good, safe speed. You may find yourself going slower to enjoy the scenery. That's fine, but don't let cars stack up behind you. Stop off at one of the frequent overlooks for a few minutes. You'll clear up the jam and have a chance to enjoy the view, wildflowers, a trail, or an interpretive display.

Weather changes rapidly in the mountains. Summer thunderstorms can be extremely powerful and come on very suddenly. It's best to find a safe spot and park until the storm passes.

Fog is another, and very dangerous problem. First off, you will rarely see real fog. What happens is clouds get low enough that they cover the mountains. The result is the same: a thick, white covering that cuts visibility drastically. There are times when it is impossible to see beyond the sides of your vehicle. When you encounter thick fog, the best policy is to cut your speed and find an exit. Exercise great caution; when you can't see to turn, roll down your window and listen for approaching vehicles.

For More Info:
Blue Ridge Parkway Association
PO Box 2136
Asheville, NC 28802-2136

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