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Excerpted from an article by Karen Chavez/Asheville Citizen-Times

“…Just over 15 million people visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2015 – that’s a 7% increase over the year before for the 469-mile roadway, which stretches from Cherokee to Shenandoah in Virginia.  The warm fall and mild winter brought a lot of people to local businesses – but the parkway and all of its visitors is definitely a boon.

In 2014, the Parkway was bumped back to second place by Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco…but last year, the Parkway had 260,000 more visitors that Golden Gate.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park also had a banner year, with 10.7 million visitors in 2015.

Parkway officials see success in the park’s popularity (the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Park), and no doubt it is good economic news for numerous gateway communities…(note – the Parkway is accessible either by Route 276 from Brevard or Route 215 from Rosman, and it takes about 30-45 minutes to get there either way…Route 276 travels through the Brevard portion of Pisgah National Forest and gives you access to Davidson River Campground, Davidson River Fish Hatchery, fishing, tubing, hiking & horseback riding.  The Route 215 access from Rosman takes you through a more southerly portion of Pisgah National Forest and gives access to river rafting and canoeing and great fishing along the North Fork of the French Broad River  – also, I think it’s a prettier and less-traveled drive!)

Based on a National Park Service report released last summer in 2014, visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway spent $8.6 million in communities near the parkway.  That spending supported 14,020 jobs in local areas and had a cumulative benefit to local economies of more that $1.1 billion.  A peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis conducted by US Geological Survey and National Park Service economists shows that the 10.1 million visitors to Great Smoky Mountians National Park in 2014 spend almost $807 million in communities near the park.

Both Parkway budget and staff numbers have remained nearly flat for years, and are not tied to the number of visitors.  Which means parkway staff are doing even more to serve visitors, and leaning more heavily on volunteers and on the work of partner organizations including the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Says Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods:  “The Parkway looks good and people are enjoying it…we did some pretty major projects and there’s a lot of positive energy…people are seeing tangible projects and facilities in poor shape being improved.”  He said that he is “thrilled” the Parkway is back in the top spot, and that pride trickles down to everyone who has a connection to the scenic roadway.  “…Our parks offer us really something special that belongs to every citizen, whether its a state of national park…I know people love the parkway…it’s very gratifying to know that folks love and care for it.”

SOURCE:  Karen Chavez/Asheville Citizen-Times

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