Making viaduct a reality
by Jeff Eason
It’s a tourist
attraction, an engineering marvel and an eco-friendly roadway.
The Linn Cove Viaduct of the Blue Ridge Parkway, located 12 miles south of
Blowing Rock at parkway milepost 305, turned 25 years old on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
In 1987, it represented the final piece of the puzzle for the 469-mile long
scenic roadway that is officially a member of the National Parks family.
On Tuesday, members of the National Park Service and the general public gathered
at the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center to honor the men and women who made the viaduct a reality.
“In 1960, the Federal Highway Administration started the
Grandfather Mountain portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Lloyd M. Middleton, one of the
engineers of the viaduct construction project. “The very last section was the bridge that
makes up the viaduct. It was the greatest challenge of my career as an engineer. It was very
According to Middleton, federal engineers
inspect the viaduct every two years to make sure it hasn’t settled at its base or moved. A
quarter century after it first opened to the public, it hasn’t moved a centimeter.
During a brief ceremony, Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent
Phil Francis spoke about the history of the viaduct.
“Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began on Sept.11, 1935,” said
Francis. “And even then there was a lot of discussion of how the parkway would pass around
Grandfather Mountain. Over the years, three different routes were proposed. The first was a tunnel
through the mountain above Rough Ridge. The second would’ve been parallel to U.S. Hwy 221.
“In 1968, officials of the Blue Ridge Parkway decided on
the current route. It is one of the greatest stretches of roadway in the National Park Service,
and we are so lucky to have it.
“Sept. 11 is a day in
American history that no one will ever forget. But it is also a day to be patriotic and be proud of
the assets that we have been given. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Grandfather Mountain are two of our
Gary Johnson, one of the landscape
architects who worked on the viaduct project spoke about how the National Park Service worked with
Grandfather Mountain owner Hugh Morton to decide on precisely where to put the viaduct.
“After a stint in the military, I began to work on the
parkway when I was 27 or 28,” said Johnson. “I worked as a landscape architect with Bob
Hope and Robert Scheffler. We decided where to put the viaduct and its surrounding bridges, how to
save as many trees as possible, things like that. The rhododendrons were so thick that you could
walk from the viaduct to where the visitor center is now and never touch the ground.
“The project left me with the greatest feeling of
Randy Johnson, an avid outdoorsman and
writer, has written a book on the Blue Ridge Parkway and will soon release one on Grandfather
Mountain on University of North Carolina Press.
here in the late seventies to help establish the Grandfather Mountain Trail Program,” said
Randy Johnson. “We didn’t want to see the backside of Grandfather developed or closed
to hikers. The viaduct is the best thing that could’ve happened. The open bridges and spans
allow animals to go up and down the mountain without having to cross the parkway. It is very
eco-friendly in that regard.”
The celebration of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Linn Cove Viaduct was held on the same day as the 60th anniversary celebration of the Grandfather Mountain Swinging Bridge.