As funding situations at individual national park units become more and more dire, park advocates are devising ingenious ways to supplement the parks' budgets.
Take the Blue Ridge Parkway for instance. This 469-mile-long stretch of highway that runs from Virginia to North Carolina and which is sandwiched by 81,054 acres of gorgeous Appalachian Mountain countryside is really financially strapped.
Since 1980, the parkway's budget has increased by just 0.5 percent when you factor in inflation. The maintenance backlog alone is estimated at more than $200 million, and currently 45 of the parkway's 237 authorized positions are vacant. Another 59 positions are expected to fall by the wayside by Fiscal 2008 if nothing changes.
According to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the parkway's maintenance and engineering department currently has a vacancy rate of roughly 30 percent, and the parkway's General Management Plan -- the blueprint for guiding management decisions -- is two years behind schedule.
Things like that demand ingenuity when it comes to raising money for the parkway. And the parkway foundation has hit upon what I consider to be an interesting fundraiser that allows North Carolinians to show their support for the parkway on their cars.
Under the program, for $30 a year North Carolina motorists can buy a special license plate that carries the foundation's "Share the Journey" slogan. Twenty dollars of the fee goes directly to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to help support and preserve the parkway, while the remaining $10 goes to the North Carolina highway beautification program and other specialty license plate programs.
So far, I understand, more than 13,000 of these "Share The Journey" plates have been sold in North Carolina, raising roughly $260,000 for the foundation.
Unfortunately, Virginia drivers weren't so enamored with a similar program in their state, in part because there are so many specialty license plates -- nearly 200 -- in that state. The "Share the Journey" program kicked off in Virginia early in 2004 with the understanding that it would expire at the end of 2004 if fewer than 350 of the specialty plates had been sold. Sadly, as of Dec. 31, 2004, just 23 requests had been made.
Fortunately, the North Carolina program is still going strong. If you live in North Carolina and are interested in this program, you can find details here.