History and the GMP, Part 4: What shouldn’t go in

History and the GMP, Part 4: What shouldn’t go in

(Originally posted to Virtual Blue Ridge’s Blue Ridge Parkway Blog, August 14, 2008)

Sorry I have been offline for a while — I was traveling to the midwest, where I visited Cumberland Gap National Historical ParkMammoth Cave National Park, and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace. But now back to the Blue Ridge Parkway!

In some recent posts, I’ve been trying to give a historically-informed analysis of the “preliminary alternatives” announced back in the spring for the public’s consideration and commentary to help the Parkway staff write a General Management Plan for the park. Today’s topic? The comments I submitted in response to Question 3. Read the spring 2008 GMP newsletter and learn about the preliminary alternatives here.

Question 3. Are there parts of the preliminary alternatives that you feel strongly should not be included in the future management of the parkway?

I believe strongly that the Parkway needs to move actively and decisively away from many elements of Alternative A (the present management practices), especially in regard to the interpretive and cultural resources management program. In particular, continued management of the road as aplace that penetrated a “once remote mountain region” (p. 4, column A), peopled by “quaint Appalachian settlements” commits the Parkway to perpetuating ideas about the Appalachian region that were never grounded in the actual history of the region, and are certainly no longer sustainable in the face of more than nearly forty years of high-quality historical scholarship about the region. That research is readily accessible on the Appalachian Studies Association website, and should be regularly accessed as a primary planning and interpretive resource.

On a related note, in the area of Cultural Resources Management (p. 5), I am concerned about the continued emphasis in all three alternatives on the designation of the parkway corridor as a National Historic Landmark. While I would welcome the recognition of the park’s significance that this designation would imply, I worry that including the original Parkway interpretive exhibits and cultural history sites as part of the “principal components of this designed landscape” (p. 5) would have the effect of freezing the Parkway’s presentation of the region’s history in a pre-1955 time capsule. In other words, because original Parkway designers had (erroneous) ideas about the region’s history and presented a “picturesque” view of that history that was suffused with regional stereotypes, would a National Historic Landmark-designated Parkway be expected to enshrine those erroneous pictures and sites forever in the way that Stanley Abbott or other early designers envisioned them? Or could the historical scenes offered at places like Mabry Mill, the Peaks of Otter, Humpback Rocks, and other similar locations be substantially altered to support historical interpretations more in keeping with current historical scholarship and a more complex view of the region?

Finally, as mentioned previously, I would like to see the Parkway enhance opportunities for lower-impact, physically active recreation (hiking, biking, unicycling!) and de-emphasize further developments for motorized recreation (RVs and motorcycles). In particular, I would be reluctant to see a wholesale re-making of the Parkway campground areas to accommodate large RVs. While I’m not opposed to water and electrical hookups, I think that expanding parking, widening roads, etc (as proposed on p. 7) would fundamentally change the character of Parkway campgrounds, eroding the quietness and serenity of the Parkway experience in favor of a more commercialized camping model. Additionally, as mentioned above, I think accommodating the Parkway to large gas-guzzling vehicles is the wrong focus for limited Parkway funds in an age of high gas prices and increasing environmental concern about the impact of greenhouse gases.

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