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Originally published: 2014-05-01 11:29:05
Last modified: 2014-05-01 11:33:15

Foundation targets parkway projects

The Blue Ridge Parkway, ranking as the most visited unit of the National Park Service for many years, will open its facilities for the 2014 tourist season in early May. 

According to a report recently released by the National Park Service, the parkway generates more than $900 million in tourist revenues and supports more than 12,000 jobs annually. 

But with an aging infrastructure, shrinking federal budgets and a backlog of unmet needs, the parkway is challenged to maintain the standards of excellence that draw and delight millions of visitors each year, according to parkway officials.

To help meet those challenges, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation was formed in 1997 as the primary fundraising partner of the parkway and since then has given millions in support of parkway projects and program.

The list of 2014 projects and programs approved by the Parkway Foundation board of trustees has a price tag of more than $700,000. 

These projects will safeguard the wildlife and the environment of the parkway, preserve its historic features, cultivate an appreciation for nature through education and ensure recreational areas are welcoming and safe for all visitors, foundation officials said. 

The foundation is able to support these projects with income from the sale of the N.C. Blue Ridge Parkway specialty license plate, individual gifts and grants.

Carolyn Ward, CEO of the foundation, said, "We have given careful consideration to the projects that would best protect this special resource and serve both its visitors and neighbors. 

"We look forward to working with parkway fans from near and far to make these projects a reality. We hope that all those who love the parkway will join our community of stewards to help protect our Parkway for future generations."  

Mark Woods, superintendent of the parkway, added "The parkway reflects and highlights the cultural and natural heritage of this entire region of the country, and the responsibilities and challenges of protecting this vast resource are tremendous. We are excited to continue our relationship with the foundation and its community of stewards to help safeguard this vital resource for current and future generations."

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation's 2014 funding priorities include:

- Restoration of the Waterwheel Site at Mabry Mill (milepost 177): Currently under way, this project will fix the mill wheel, which has deteriorated and needs extensive repair. The project began with the dredging of the mill pond, which was overgrown with vegetation, impairing the mill's function.

- Julian Price Memorial Park, Price Lake Loop Trail (milepost 297): This project has just started and will rehabilitate this degraded and often muddy trail to enhance the outdoor experience for all park users, but especially those with special needs. Nearly one mile of the existing trail will be restored to meet accessibility standards and a boardwalk will be constructed at the Laurel Creek crossing. The foundation has already funded almost 1 mile of this accessible trail.

- Expansion of Linville Falls Overlook for Interpretation of Significant Geologic Features (milepost 316): This project will allow the park to expand the overlook at Linville Falls, allowing visitors to view the exceptional exposure of the Linville Falls thrust fault that can be seen from this special location.

- Graveyard Fields Enhancement Project (milepost 418): The foundation is leveraging private donations in a collaborative effort with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to qualify for a scenic byways grant to expand the parking lot, build a comfort station, improve the trails and install new interpretive signs in an effort improve the visitor experience and protect the environment of this site.

- Stone Water Fountain Reconstruction (park wide): To help protect the character of several areas on the parkway, the foundation will fund a project to rebuild and re-plumb two of the historic stone water fountains.

- Preventing the spread of white-nose syndrome threatening BRP bat populations (park wide): The foundation will fund preventative measures to help keep the fungus causing this disease out of parkway lands.

- Emergency Medical Services/First Responder Continuing Education Classes for Blue Ridge Parkway Personnel (park wide): This project will allow NPS staff to maintain certifications and skills to improve medical response capabilities and pre-hospital care for injured persons within the boundaries of the Parkway.

- Ecological restoration of high-priority wetlands (parkwide): This project will allow for protection of several high-value wetland areas along the parkway in need of environmental restoration. These high elevation wetlands are important habitat for bog turtles and rare plant populations.

- Visitor Maps and Guides (parkwide): The foundation funds printing of 100,000 copies of the official map and outdoor guide.

- Parks as Classrooms (park wide): Provided to over 25,000 children each year, this curriculum-based program instills values of Parkway protection and preservation and satisfies the national standards of learning in the Virginia and North Carolina Parkway counties where the program is presented.

- Kids in Parks (park wide): The Foundation's Kids in Parks program helps get kids and families "unplugged" and physically active outdoors through partnerships with trails along the Parkway and on local, state and federal trails throughout the country, working to build a generation of future park stewards.

-  Blue Ridge Music Center(milepost 213): The Blue Ridge Music Center is a major attraction on the Parkway, allowing visitors to learn, participate, and gain an understanding of Blue Ridge musical heritage and culture through a world-class museum, concerts, workshops and more. The Foundation is the non-profit partner of the National Park Service that oversees programming at the Blue Ridge Music Center, a role formerly filled by the National Council of Traditional Arts. 

To learn more about any of these projects or the myriad of ways to support the Foundation, visit http://www.brpfoundation.org or call (866) 308-2773