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Originally published: 2014-04-21 11:39:34
Last modified: 2014-04-21 11:39:34

Blue Ridge Parkway plans controlled burn at Doughton Park

Blue Ridge Parkway managers plan to conduct a controlled burn, totaling approximately 45 acres within a tract of forest in and near the Doughton Park Picnic Area, at milepost 242 near Laurel Springs.

The operation is weather dependent and should occur in late April. Park managers plan on completing the burn in one day. A minimum of 24-hour notice will be given once the exact date of the burn is set. No impacts are anticipated to the upcoming visitor season, according to parkway officials.

The goals of the project are to reduce forest fuel accumulations within the picnic area and to restore a healthy and diverse ecosystem in surrounding forests. Fire managers plan to use a series of low-intensity controlled burns during a number of years to restore the composition and open structure of the oak and pine forests that occur within the site, according to parkway managers. 

These plant communities, which need occasional fires to regenerate, are important to wildlife and overall ecosystem health, and they are in decline throughout the Southern Appalachian region. This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs while increasing regeneration of oak and yellow pines and the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers.

All wildfires within the parkway had been vigorously suppressed for more than 70 years, officials said. One consequence of that long-term fire exclusion is that dry mountain slopes and ridges, historically covered with oaks and pines, are becoming increasingly dominated by trees and shrubs that are much less resistant to fires and droughts. 

The new forest has a closed canopy that allows little light to reach the forest floor, resulting in a decline of plant and animal diversity. 

The planned burn is designed to reduce the density of fire-intolerant species and to promote the regeneration of oaks and pines, officials said.

This is the second prescribed fire the Blue Ridge Parkway has attempted since completing a fire management plan in 2005. Fire professionals from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and the NPS Southeast Regional Office have helped write the plan, prepare the site and will manage the fire. 

Parkway firefighters from North Carolina and Virginia may also be on the scene. 

The parkway motor road may be closed during firing operations. The duration of the closure is expected to be one day. 

The Mountains-to-Sea trail may be closed in this area during and after burn operations as firefighters extinguish hot spots along the trail, officials said.