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From left, Randy Johnson, Blue Ridge Parkway ranger Reama Pearson, volunteer Dexter Yaddof, volunteer Kaitlin Carnahan, ranger Tina White, ranger Susan Brown, ranger Amy Renfranz, Parkway superintendent Philip Francis, Linn Cove Viaduct architectural landscape specialist Gary Johnson and Linn Cove Viaduct engineer Lloyd M Middleton celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Viaduct.




Originally published: 2012-09-12 13:13:12
Last modified: 2012-09-12 13:17:35

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 challenging.”

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 greatest assets.”

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 accomplishment.”

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.

“I moved 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.