(Originally posted on Virtual Blue Ridge’s Blue Ridge Parkway Blog, April 23, 2008)
The Blue Ridge Parkway’s 75th anniversary is coming up in 2010. Like in 1985, when its 50th anniversary was celebrated, a two-state planning group has been formed to coordinate the festivities. “Blue Ridge Parkway 75, Inc.” consists of perhaps thirty board members – of which I am one – drawn from Parkway communities and partner organizations.
One of our first discussions, of course, was “when is the 75th anniversary?” You would think this would be easy to answer, but it’s not. It’s just one of the Parkway’s “many stories.”
So, when was the Parkway born?
Well, setting aside for a moment precursor roads like Joseph Hyde Pratt’s proposed Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway (1909-12), the Parkway we know certainly began to take shape in 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal began providing funds for big public works projects that would stimulate the economy and generate employment.
With that background, there are at least three credible candidates for the Parkway’s birthday, if you look for dates on which concrete actions were taken that assured that the Parkway idea would become a reality:
- November 16, 1933, when Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes approved the future Blue Ridge Parkway for federal funding under the Public Works Administration.
- September 19, 1935, when, according to a latter from J.P. Dodge, Senior Claim Adjuster for the North Carolina Highway Commission, to the Chair of the Highway Commission, the “first breaking of ground on the first project of the Shenandoah- Great Smoky Mountains National Parkway” took place at Low Gap, NC.
- June 30, 1936, when a federal statute named the road the “Blue Ridge Parkway” and placed it under the control of the National Park Service.
Following its precursors, Blue Ridge Parkway 75 has honed in on the “beginning of construction” date (1935 above) as the Parkway’s official birthday. And in a sense, that’s fine. The point of the celebration is not to split historical hairs, but to focus attention on the inspiring accomplishment the Parkway represents and to spur public action to protect it for the future.
But splitting this historical hair does remind us: big and complicated projects like the Parkway almost never get born on a single day. They are almost always the culmination of weeks, months, and years of planning and thinking that eventually coalesce into some kind of final product. Similarly, they are usually not created by a single mind or a single hand. Many people made the Parkway, and it will take the ideas and energy of all of us, talking, planning, and thinking, to envision and build its future.
Watch this space for more about the 75th and look for ways that you can get involved.