Blue Ridge Parkway Upgrades No Easy Task
Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in This Land, Your Land, a blog about North Carolina public lands and is based on a story in the December issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine, a monthly magazine covering the outdoors, travel, arts, culture and the people of the mountains of the South, including Kentucky, Maryland, the Virginias, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
An article in the December issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine looks at the outdated campgrounds and lodges on the Blue Ridge Parkway and explores the prospects for updating them.
National Park Service campgrounds along the scenic road were state-of-the art when they were built in the 1940s and ‘50s, which did not include showers or electricity hookups. Large RVs didn’t exist then either. The question of whether to upgrade involves not only money, but whether it is in the National Park Service mission.
Parkway campgrounds are less crowded than commercial campgrounds, and probably shouldn’t try to compete with the many commercial campgrounds just off the Parkway, Mike Molling, director of maintenance for the Parkway says in the article. Some campers come to the Parkway for the rustic atmosphere, Gary Johnson, the Parkway’s chief planner and landscape architect, added.
“We’ve been talking about adding showers for 30 years, but as soon as we get into that conversation, then we have to talk about whether we have enough water, drainage fields and so on. Adding electrical hookups would require installation of a network of service lines in the campgrounds,” Johnson said.
“We have to decide what the break-even point is. Do we have to completely redo our campground roads to accommodate large RVS, make the tent pads larger for the larger tents people now have, add showers to all campground comfort stations [showers were retrofitted at the Mount Pisgah campground]? What about handicap accessibility? What is the minimum investment we can make for maximum return?”
The Parkway has applied for $9.5 million to rehabilitate the campground at Peaks of Otter in Virginia (work that the article does not detail), but will compete with other Park Service facilities in the region and then across the nation for the money, the article says. The decision will be made next year, but work would not begin until 2015.
Meanwhile, the Park Service’s concession planning staff is working with the Parkway to study to determine how lodges and restaurants on the Parkway can be expanded to make them profitable. As it is, they are too old and too small to make money.
Another problem is that concessionaires, who run the facilities, are required to make specific building improvements as part of their contracts, but the 10-year contracts are too short for them to recoup their investment. So, no one wants the contract and, instead of letting new agreements, the Park Service extends old ones year by year. If and when someone opts out, who knows?