One of the most gorgeous stretches of highways in this country is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which twists, turns, meanders and downright rambles for almost 500 miles from Virginia to North Carolina.
One reason it's so beautiful is that a landscape architect traveled the entire route before the road was laid down to be sure the views would be stupendous. Another reason, at least for me, is that is explores the heart of the Appalachian region with its hardwood forests, charming towns, and American history.
Sadly, this unit of the National Park Service is being financially starved. Earlier this month the Roanoke Times reported that the parkway has a maintenance backlog of more than $200 million and that the workforce is 20 percent below its allotted limit. Additionally, for the first time in its history the parkway does not have a landscape architect on staff.
"We're cutting back just about everywhere," Parkway Superintendent Phillip Francis told the newspaper. "It's the incremental things that are so doggone worrisome.
So what's the solution? Well, the folks at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation strongly believe the parkway should not have to rely on the private sector for an adequate budget. In a candid letter-to-the-editor, the foundation's executive director had some strong words for both Congress and the National Park Service.
Houck Medford's full letter follows.
"The Blue Ridge Parkway's financial woes, recently
reported in an article entitled "Running on Empty" are a sad and unfortunate
testament to our country's lack of concern and fiscal responsibility to our
national park system.
"These loss of service needs for the Blue Ridge Parkway are very real and the numbers reported are startlingly accurate - a $200 million dollar service backlog; no resident landscape architect, a critical position, on staff; one out of every five positions vacant, all due to lack of adequate funding. Some in Congress and the National Parks System have suggested that there needs to be a greater contribution from the private sectors to support the operational budgets of our national parks.
"Operational funds are those moneys that pay salaries of employees who run our parks, that take care of ongoing maintenance, that keep our parks beautiful, healthy and safe. Contributed funds should provide a margin of excellence, not a margin of survival. Philanthropy cannot and should not be used to pay a federal employee's salary. Our parks are one of the reasons citizens pay taxes, and we rightfully have an expectation that those funds will be used for that purpose.
"The Blue Ridge Parkway has been a well-deserved beneficiary of heartfelt contributions from thousands who love and enjoy their Parkway experience, the most visited national park in the country. Land conservancies have donated more than 25,000 acres of property and easements to protect some of the Parkway's most scenic views. Volunteers have planted trees and maintained trails, helping to restore and protect threatened views by development. Still others have funded the effort to have park rangers visit K-12 classrooms to instill values of park protection.
"The Blue Ridge Parkway can not rely solely on charitable investment while our federal government disinvests itself of its rightful responsibility.
"Share your concern with members of Congress that they are allowing this national jewel to fall into decay. Share your appreciation by supporting organizations that work to maintain and enhance this magnificent park for future generations. And then, come, share the journey that is the Blue Ridge Parkway."