The story below is an excerpt from our July/August 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
Mark Woods, a 36-year veteran of the National Park Service, is the Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, overseeing the historic 469-mile national park and its natural and cultural resources. On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its centennial year and invite the nation to “find your park.”
Former Director of the National Park Service in the 1960s, George B. Hartzog Jr., once observed:
“The national park idea has been nurtured by each succeeding generation of Americans. Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.”
So often we imagine national parks to be faraway places to be visited only once in a lifetime, like Yellowstone or Yosemite. But the central and southern Appalachian Mountains are home to America’s most-visited national park, the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway traverses some of the oldest mountain ridges in the world, the rolling and graceful Blue Ridge Mountains, for nearly 500 miles across Virginia and North Carolina.
As Hartzog noted, the Parkway encapsulates the historical significance of the region with sites like Mabry Mill or Polly Woods Ordinary, as well as the natural significance, providing protection to species like the bog turtle and peregrine falcon. However, the park does not just enrich the environment in which it exists; it is continually enriched by the vibrant and inviting communities it travels through. During my time as Superintendent at the Parkway, I’ve had the privilege of traveling from Waynesville, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia, and many places in between. So often I’ve encountered people whose sense of place in many cases has become their sense of purpose. In the process, I have found a new source of inspiration within the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is so fortunate to be positioned in such a way that park visitors and advocates are often one in the same. Whether it is an annual family picnic at Peaks of Otter, or a tradition of riding end-to-end on motorcycles with an old friend, the Parkway landscape is a place that has instilled a sense of home in all who visit for generations. The elongated nature of the Parkway further distinguishes it from other parks—at 469 miles long it has the capability to play a role in the daily lives of communities in 29 counties and countless towns across Virginia and North Carolina.
This is why, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, it is essential that the Parkway and its communities continue to connect with one another in ways that strengthen and nurture these relationships. The goal of the National Park Service Centennial is to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates. Nationally, the Park Service is encouraging the American public to “Find Your Park” by getting outside and enjoying public lands. Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we are so lucky to have a park in the backyard of so many wonderful communities. We hope that this year and in future years you will Find Your Park at the Blue Ridge Parkway, and celebrate the shared bond of enrichment that Hartzog envisioned for all national parks.