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Proposal: A great deal on a New Deal

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
Message Gene Messick

As the Obama Administration for Change takes office during the worst Economic times since the Great Depression, there's talk of jump starting our Economy with employment in new public works projects reminiscent of FDR's New Deal. Here's one that's ready and waiting to happen on land that already belongs to all of us.

Originally devised in 2004, this Project got delayed because our money was being spent to blow up and rebuild Iraq. Now that attention is being turned to GwB's neglect of America, this is more appropriate than ever. It describes a new Natural Heritage Center for the Blue Ridge Parkway, on a 4200 acre bulge in the Parkway at Rocky Knob in Virginia.

Most folks think of our National Parks as being like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Shenandoah National Park. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is a separate Linear Park which connects these two other Parks, the longest and narrowest National Park in the world, and most visited of the 380 Parks in our national system. Not wider than most country roads, the Parkway was conceived and constructed in large part by FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps, ERA and WPA, putting thousands of unemployed folks to work for years. Started in 1935 to help pull America out of the Depression, workers built the roadbed, 168 bridges, and 26 tunnels drilled and blasted through solid rock.

So many superlatives must be used to describe the magnificence of this national treasure. Ranging from 649 feet in elevation to over a mile high at 6047 feet, the vast array of plants along the Parkway offer a moving flowering season over many months. It's literally possible to drive back in time, by leaving blooming daffodils of Spring in NC valleys, and driving a short distance up to high mountains to find Winter still firmly in control with icicles and bare trees. More than 100 species of birds may be seen during Spring migration.

Below is copied a concise description found among other fascinating information from this link 

"The Blue Ridge Parkway is many things. It is the longest road planned as a single unit in the United States. It is an elongated park, protecting significant mountain landscapes far beyond the shoulders of the road itself. It is a series of parks providing the visitor access to high mountain passes, splendid natural "gardens" of flowering mountain plants, waterfalls and water gaps, deep forests and upland meadows. It is a continuous series of panoramic views, the boundaries of its limited right-of way rarely apparent and miles of the adjacent countryside seemingly a part of the protected scene. It is a "museum of the managed American countryside," preserving the roughhewn log cabin of the mountain pioneer, the summer home of a textile magnate, and traces of early industries such as logging railways and an old canal. It is miles of split-rail fence, moss on a wood shingle roof, broomcorn and flax in a pioneer garden. It is the fleeting glimpse of a deer, a wild turkey or a red fox, or for those who prefer their animal life less wild, herds of cows grazing in pastures or horses trotting in fields. It is a chain of recreational areas, offering motorists a spot to picnic in the woods, a place to sleep overnight in a campground or a rustic lodge, as well as opportunities to refuel their vehicle, enjoy a meal, or purchase a piece of fine regional handicraft. It is the product of a series of major public works projects which provided a boost to the travel and tourism industry and helped the Appalachian region climb out the depths of the Great Depression. The Blue Ridge Parkway is all these things and more, so it should come as no surprise that this is the most heavily visited unit in the National Park System."

Much more can be learned about the Blue Ridge Parkway here and here.

Our cultural heritage is celebrated all along the Parkway, from the Cherokee Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the southern end, the Southern Highland Folk Art Center near Asheville, and a Blue Ridge Music Center near the NC/VA State Line. A Rocky Knob Natural Heritage Center would complete the missing link in this celebration of Southern Appalachian Heritage.

A project was begun in the Great Smoky Mountains NP several years ago to identify and catalog all the species living inside the Park, expected to total over 100,000. This unique natural phenomena is the result of centuries of advancing and receding Ice Ages, which pushed northern species into southern territory, dropping them behind as ice receded, where they thrived in this mountain environment creating a diverse mix of species that is found no where else in America.

I was fortunate to get to know Dr Garrett Smathers, a retired Chief Scientist for the National Park Service who began his career on the Blue Ridge Parkway, writing much of the original natural history of the region found along the Parkway. He told me that of all the thousands of species found in GSMNP, it pales in total numbers to what can be found along the 469 mile Blue RIdge Parkway, because it stretches across so many altitude and climate changes.

Rocky Knob, with it's available 4200 acres, is a perfect place to establish the Rocky Knob Natural Heritage Center, already developed with a popular campground and picnic areas. Here's a brief description of Rocky Knob and Mabry Mill a few miles south, the most photographed site on the Parkway:

"Many rural scenes and agricultural landscapes, working grist mill with adjacent blacksmith shop and cabin, three picnic areas, visitor center, campground, extensive hiking into Rockcastle Gorge."

Think of the Rocky Knob Natural Heritage Center as an elaborate botanical garden where everyone from garden club members to University professors can come to study and enjoy one of the most unique places on our planet. Enhanced by environmentally friendly green buildings with exhibits, libraries and meeting facilities, this place would attract visitors from around the world at all seasons. A Visitors Center where examples and information about plants from all along the Parkway is available at one location. But not only that. It's historical context would describe the human interaction with Nature over two centuries, from harvesting timber for housing, to weaving clothing from plant and domestic animal fibers, to discovering medicines from native plant and herbal species.

While this project will take years to build, and will by it's very nature never be completed, it could be well underway by the 75th Anniversary in 2010, with a display at Rocky Knob showing the visiting public what will happen there over the next decade.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was born and built to help bring us out of our last Economic Depression. How fitting and appropriate that the Parkway can be instrumental in bringing our Economy back to good health once again.

I have the original 2004 12-page proposal that I can send by Email to anyone interested: 

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For 17 years Gene Messick studied and taught Design at NC State University and Cornell. Co-founding the Visual Design Program at NCSU, he established the Photography Program at Cornell, where he taught in the Architecture Department, most interested (more...)
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