Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway


Support Your Park

Your opportunity for getting involved in protecting and caring for the Blue Ridge Parkway is provided through two organizations, The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. Operating alongside Friends and the Foundation is Eastern National, the Parkway's cooperating association that sells educational items at all visitor centers, returning a percentage of the sales back to the park.

The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a membership organization founded in 1989 and currently having over 5,000 members. The Friends' primary mission is to mobilize and provide leadership for volunteers who assist with a wide variety of Parkway projects. Contact them to find out more about how to be involved with projects such as trail construction or viewshed protection.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is a non-profit foundation, serving as the primary fundraising organization for the Parkway. The Foundation solicits donations and bequests from individuals, as well as grants and corporate support for a broad range of programs and activities that providing lasting benefits to the Parkway and its visitors. Contact the Foundation if you would like to help support Parks As Classrooms, Preservation of the Moses Cone Memorial Park, or if you have an idea of your own!

Other Parkway partners include:

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, whose "Preservers of the Parkway" initiative raises funds to protect scenic vistas along the Parkway in North Carolina. The Western Virginia Land Trust protects Parkway vistas in a similar fashion in Virginia.

The National Council for the Traditional Arts, heavily involved in arranging the concert series each summer at the Parkway's Blue Ridge Music Center.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Association, an association that promotes the region through chambers of commerce and travel businesses throughout the Parkway region.

The Southern Highlands Craft Guild, the region's premier non-profit craft organization, that sells items at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and at the Folk Art Center.

Fire Regime

Unlike many places in the US, wildland fires are generally uncommon in the Southern Appalachians and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even when fires do occur here they tend to be less intense, burn smaller areas and occur in limited ecosystems. But this is not to say that fires had no role in the Appalachians, in some vegetation communities they were vitally important.

Typically wildfires would occur on exposed ridges or southern slopes where the fuels are exposed to wind and sunshine and the sites are drier. Fires at some of these sites may have occurred as often as every five to ten years. Lightning strikes, especially during the summer, could strike trees along the ridges, igniting the tree and fuels below. The fire would then travel downhill burning the leaf litter, woody debris and some brush or trees as it went. Generally, however, these fires were not intense and large trees would be left unharmed as the fire passed. Eventually the fire would run into the shaded, moist coves where fuels could not carry the fire any farther and it would go out.

There are some ecosystems along the Parkway that benefit from, and even need, fire to exist. Table Mountain Pines grow along ridges and on dry, south-facing slopes. These pines have serotinous cones that need fire for the cones to open and the seeds to fall to the ground. Fires expose mineral soil and remove some of the overstory trees, allowing the seeds to germinate and the seedlings to grow. Without fire Table Mountain Pines will not reproduce and these forests will be taken over by other species.

Oak forests occur on drier sites and fires help them to compete with other trees. Oak trees have a thick bark and are able to survive the ground fires that are typical on these sites. Maples and many other trees have thin bark and even low-intensity fires can heat the cambium layer and kill these trees, removing them from competing with the oaks. Suppression of wildfires has resulted in many areas that once contained oak forest being converted to other forest communities.

These days fires on the Parkway are more likely human-caused than the result of lightning strikes. From 1982 through 2002 there were 176 fires that occurred at least partially on park lands, burning 1,473 acres. Of these only 23 (13%) were lightning caused, burning a total of 506 acres. The remaining fires were the result of arson, campfires, cigarettes, vehicle fires, debris burning and other causes.

Typically fires along the Parkway remain small, in part because of the type of fuels involved but also because the fires are put out as soon as they are found. Almost half the fires (75 out of the 176 fires) only burned about 0.1 acres. Another 73 were less than 1 acre meaning that 83% of all fires were 1 acre or less. Only nine fires burned more than 100 acres.

Air Quality

Visitors have traveled the Parkway for years enjoying majestic views and distant horizons. Increasingly however these views have become less and less majestic as pollution gets in the way and haze blocks the distant scenes.

There has always been some pollution affecting the views in the Southern Appalachians. In fact the Blue Ridge Mountain’s name originated because of the bluish haze caused by hydrocarbons released by trees into the atmosphere. However, over the last 50 years the visibility in the Southern Appalachians has decreased 40% in the winter and 80% in the summer because of man-made pollutants.

Most of the pollution is caused by power plants, industry and automobiles. These pollutants come from both within and outside the Southern Appalachians, often traveling hundreds of miles. As the winds bring the pollutants to the Blue Ridge the mountains trap and concentrate them. While the decreased views are noticeable, there are also other impacts that cannot be seen.

Acid rain is probably the most familiar type of air pollution problem for most people. Acid rain is just one type of acid deposition, or the introduction of acid from the atmosphere to the ground. It is made up of sulfuric acid, nitric acid and ammonia, which are made from sulfur dioxides (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and ammonium (NH3) which in turn are emitted from burning fossil fuels, primarily as emissions from electric utilities and motor vehicles, and from agricultural activities.

In addition to acid rain, acids are brought to the ground as snow, dry particles, clouds and fog. Studies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have found that average rainfall there is 5-10 times more acidic than normal rain and that clouds covering the mountain tops are often 100 times more acidic still.

Several problems result from this acidification of the Blue Ridge and other areas in the Eastern US. There is increasing evidence that soils are being altered in many areas. So much nitrogen is being deposited that soils are becoming nitrogen saturated. This leads to the loss of calcium in the soil, which affects plant nutrition, and the release of aluminum which can be toxic to plants, fish and other organisms. The accumulation of sulfur and nitrogen in the soil also leads to acidification of streams and lakes as they leach out with flowing water.

Acidification can also cause stress on vegetation resulting in poor crown condition, reduced tree growth and high levels of tree death. Acid deposition has been linked with the decline in red spruce trees, leaching calcium from the tree’s needles and making them more susceptible to freezing. Increased aluminum in the soil may limit a spruce tree’s ability to take up water and nutrients through its roots.

Ozone is another pollutant that the winds carry to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ground level ozone is created when the nitrogen oxides mix with hydrocarbons in sunlight. Ozone levels at ridgetops in the Smokies have been found to be twice the levels found in Atlanta and Knoxville. In addition to causing health problems in humans, ozone is also harmful to vegetation. Leaves of many species are damaged after exposure to high levels of ozone, with increased damage at higher elevations.

Centennial Initiative 2016


In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, America invites the world to discover the meaning of national parks to their lives and inspires people to both experience and become devoted to these special places.

On August 25, 2006 - the 90th anniversary of the National Park Service - Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne launched the National Park Centennial Initiative to prepare national parks for another century of conservation, preservation and enjoyment. Since then the National Park Service asked citizens, park partners, experts and other stakeholders what they envisioned for a second century of national parks.

A nationwide series of more than 40 listening sessions produced more than 6,000 comments that helped to shape five centennial goals. The goals and vision were presented to President Bush and to the American people on May 31st in a report called The Future of America's National Parks. Every national park staff took their lead from this report and created local centennial strategies to describe their vision and desired accomplishments by 2016. This is just the first year, and there are many great things to come as the National Park Service prepares to celebrate 100 years!

Donation Box Unveiled at Folk Art Center

Thanks to the support of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, several donation boxes have been placed along the Blue Ridge Parkway, including at the Folk Art Center near Asheville.

Dr. Greg Brown, Friends board member, said he expects the boxes to generate thousands of dollars annually that will help the Parkway with a broad range of activities, including trail construction, viewshed restoration, and volunteer support. Brown said that Parkway budgets have "eroded significantly" and that the new boxes will "give visitors a chance to put their money where their hearts are."

Superintendent Phil Francis said that unlike many National Park areas, the Blue Ridge Parkway has no entrance fee and that private support and philanthropy are increasingly important for preserving the Parkway and providing the services that help people enjoy the park. Francis said that Parkway visitors tend to be very loyal and return year-after-year. Many are also aware that the cost of operating the Parkway has increased much faster than funding, and they want to show their support. "This creates a ready opportunity for them to do that."

The Superintendent noted that donation boxes in other parks have generated returns of well over $100,000 annually. He said boxes will be placed at additional Parkway locations in North Carolina and Virginia next year. The wooden cabinet for the box unveiled today was built and donated by Robert Kleber of Dream's Edge Interiors, Fletcher, N.C. The Friends group will manage collections and return revenues to the Parkway for a variety of projects and services.

For information about the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway call (800) 228-PARK or visit

Water Quality

Being on the top of the mountain has advantages. Designed as a scenic drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway motor road tends to run along the ridge tops looking down on neighboring lands. Unlike downstream areas that receive pollution and discharges from activities at upstream sites, the Parkway owns the sources of many of its streams and they are generally clean and free of common pollutants.

Being up on top also means that the Parkway has many headwater streams and small creeks and few large rivers. These waters start with thousands of seeps that come out of rock faces or from the forest floor and join together to create hundreds of first order streams. More than 1000 stream segments are found along the Parkway’s 469 miles. Joining together these streams drain into 14 watersheds, flowing both to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

While water quality is generally high in Parkway waters there are some problems. Agricultural activity, especially livestock grazing, results in contamination of waters in many areas. The Parkway is working to fence cattle out of streams on Parkway lands and to locate watering sources away from the riparian zones. Some agricultural leases have been converted from livestock pastures to hay fields or have been taken out of the lease program altogether. Parkway biologists are also working with state agencies to repair areas with eroding stream banks and other problems. Because of this work and other management actions many Parkway streams are now livestock-free and have improved water quality.

Deposition during rain, snow and fog also cause problems to park waters. Pollutants are carried long distances from sources in the Midwest and other areas and as the clouds rise over the mountains along the Parkway they drop precipitation that is acidic and contains heavy metals. Studies have shown harmful effects not just on park waters and aquatic fauna, but also on vegetation and some terrestrial animal life.

Development increasingly is pressuring Parkway resources. In some areas these developments are upstream of the park and runoff of fertilizers, petroleum products, chemicals and sedimentation can enter Parkway streams. Though these degraded streams are few in number, Parkway biologists are working with neighbors and state agencies to clean up these problem areas.

Environmental Factors

For more than one billion years the lands that are now the Blue Ridge Parkway have been affected by a variety of environmental factors. Beginning with a collision between two huge land masses about 1.1 billion years ago and continuing up to the present day's weathering and erosion, the mountains have been built up and worn down. Once similar to the jagged peaks of the young Rocky Mountains, the older mountains of the southern Appalachians have been worn down by millions of years of erosion and now show the rounded topography and lower elevations that we enjoy today.

Other factors are also at work. Humans have been altering the natural systems here for thousands of years, with increasing impacts since Europeans arrived almost 300 years ago. With more than 1,200 miles of boundary, development encroaches along much of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hundreds of utility rights-of-way and roads cross its length. Agricultural activities both on and off the Parkway and logging up to its boundaries have changed large patches of vegetation and fragmented remaining areas. Non-native pests and diseases are killing a variety of native plants and animals. Other exotic species are competing with or displacing natives from their habitat. Both air and water pollution have degraded entire systems along the Parkway.

Despite all of these impacts the Blue Ridge Parkway continues to provide thousands of acres of natural habitat and refuge. Lands that were disturbed in the past are reverting back to healthy natural systems, providing animals and plants with habitats that are increasingly uncommon on neighboring lands.