The Blue Ridge Parkway celebrates is 75th Anniversary
Dubbed Americas Favorite Drive and the most-visited national park in the nation, the Blue Ridge Parkway is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. But tourism to this region dates much further backto Thomas Jefferson, who became enamored with the Peaks of Otter.
National Parks Service District Superintendent Peter Givens explains how this 469-mile road traversing three states came about: Someone put the bug in President Roosevelts ear that we could create a third national park that would be a graceful, recreational mountain road that would reveal the natural and cultural history of the southern highlands, connecting Shenandoah National Park in the north and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee to the south.
In 1935, of course, the nation was mired in the Great Depression, and Roosevelt was always looking for make-work projects for unemployed laborers and artisans. The results of their labor can be seen all along the Parkway today in beautiful stone walls and structures.
Todays drivers have the advantage of cars, enabling us to take in the entire 469- mile Parkway in a few days if were so inclined. But theres so much to see and do, taste and experience, you may want to take a week to see it all, or pick one segment to see in a weekend, like I did.
Givens recommends starting at Humpback Rock Visitor Center near the top of the parkway for an introduction to the historical, natural and cultural sights one will see along the way. Humpback Rocks is the perfect introduction for people planning a trip from mile 0 to 469, highlighting the natural history of the area ... and the story of the culture of the southern Appalachian mountains with exhibits and a restored homestead here are fairly typical of what European settlers who came to the Blue Ridge settled in.
Designer Stanley Abbot envisioned aroadway that lay easy on the land, a route that winds around mountainsides, dips into gaps and gracefully regains the top of the Blue Ridge. As you proceed along the parkway, pulloffs link with more than 100 walking and hiking trails, from half-mile leg-stretchers to the great Georgia-to-Maine Appalachian Trail. The scene through the car window ranges from rolling pastures dotted with grazing cattle to dramatic granite domes. The views are unmarred by commercial development along the parkway itself, but just take an exit ramp to find down-home cookin, fine dining, wineries and lodgings just minutes away.
Heres a sampler of my recent Parkway trip along the Virginia portion. I call it Blue Ridge Extremes, illustrating the diversity of experiences found on and off this mountain-top drive.
-Lowest point of 649 feet at the James River
-Highest at 3,950 feet just 10 miles away
-The Chili Dawg apple chili pepper wine washes down a dollop of Cheese Whiz at Peaks of Otter Winery. (If you dont like it, dump it on the flooryou have the owners permission!)
-Sit down to an elegant white-napkin dinner with wine pairings at Chateau Morrisette, a sprawling Europeanstyle estate.
-Dinner and dancing in the gigantic dining room ends an evening at the stately Hotel Roanoke.
-Bluegrass music spills from the park to rocking-chair porches at the new, sustainable and green Hotel Floyd.
-Farm-to-table cuisine at the Red Hen in Lexington is true artistry.
-Southern country breakfast of biscuits and gravy at the Roanoker or gigantic stone-ground pancakes at Mabry Mill.
-Dip your toes into a soothing pedicure bath at Wintergreen Resorts mountaintop spa, or in the rushing natural waters of Crabtree Falls, highest cascading falls east of the Mississippi.
-Modern art and sculpture at Taubman Museum of Fine Art in Roanoke.
-Local crafts and blacksmithing at the Jacksonville Center for the Arts in Floyd.
-Visit the cadets at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington and Native American interpreters at the Monacan Indian Village at Natural Bridge.
-Try the latest technosport of geocaching in Rockbridge County. 5 Step into the solemnity of valor at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
And thats just the Virginia portion, with 250 more miles to go through North Carolina to the Smoky Mountains.