Parkway history at the BRP General Management Plan: Part 1

Parkway history at the BRP General Management Plan: Part 1

(Originally posted to Virtual Blue Ridge’s Blue Ridge Parkway Blog, June 25, 2008)

For several years now, the staff at the Blue Ridge Parkway has been working on writing a General Management Plan. Before you start yawning, let me explain a bit: what is a General Management Plan, and why should we care?

Partly we should care because the Parkway is under legal mandate to have a GMP under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. That act directs all parks to develop a GMP to guide and rationalize park management for a fifteen-to-twenty-year period. Is writing a GMP in part an effort at not-too-sexy-sounding “compliance,” then? Well, yes, but it’s much more important than that implies.

The main reason we should care is that the writing of the GMP – the first the Parkway has ever had – provides us with a key moment to take hold of a Parkway that was given to us by history and make it ours, and our children’s. So far as I am aware, this is almost the first time since the Parkway was finished in the 1980s – and maybe since its earliest days in the 1930s – that there has been a chance to think broadly and systematically about what the essence of this Parkway is, who it should serve, how it should fit into a its ever-changing landscape, and how it should be re-created for a twenty-first century public. And the public has been invited into this conversation in a way they never were in the 1930s. In short, this could be a watershed moment for the Parkway.

Having spent so many years thinking about how the Parkway was created – what the essence of the early Parkway was, who it served, who got to weigh in on its planning, and how it was shaped by its region – I thought I should take time to provide comments on the General Management Plan’s “Preliminary Alternatives” document during the recently closed “public comment” period. You can read the preliminary alternatives for yourself online here.

The final lines of my book remind us that the “ongoing creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway now lies in our hands.” I take that statement seriously and believe I have a responsibility – as a scholar, a citizen, and a lover of this park – to add my voice to those discussing the Parkway’s future. I believe, furthermore, that history does help illuminate our path, and over the next few blog entries, I want to share with you some of the insights history suggested to me about the three proposed alternatives for future Parkway management. The materials are organized as they were submitted – in response to specific questions posed in the planning document. So check back next week for my answer to Question 1: “Is one of the three preliminary alternatives (A,B,C) already close to your idea of the best way to manage the Blue Ridge Parkway? If so, which one, and how might you modify it to make it closer to your interests and concerns?”

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