Bluffs Lodge, one of four lodging facilities along the Blue Ridge Parkway, will be closed for the 2011 season.
The lodge and nearby coffee shop have been managed by Forever Resorts after taking over the contract in 2002 from National Park Concessions. Forever Resorts decided to discontinue its operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway following several years of one-year contract extensions. Forever Resorts was concessionaire at Rocky Knob Cabins, Mabry Mill, and Crabtree Falls in addition to Bluffs and the coffee shop. All are on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Forever Resorts in April 2010 did not renew its concession at Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park. That property was picked up under a 10-year contact by ARAMARK Parks and Destinations that operates Kalaloch and Sol Duc Hot Springs in the same park. ARAMARK is also concessionaire for Lake Quinault Lodge in neighboring Olympic National Forest.
Bluffs Lodge has experienced several issues, including problems with a new roof and closure of portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway due to construction work on historic rock guardwalls. The parkway is currently closed from milepost 241 to 245.5. Beginning July of this year, the closure is expected to move north to a section between milepost 232.5 and 241. The lodge is at milepost 241. Current construction work on the rock guardwalls is expected to be complete by the spring of 2012.
Capital improvements are not typically made by concessionaires operating on one-year contract extensions, and understandably so. Numerous short-term extensions at the same facility often result in a need for substantial expenditures by either the NPS or a new concessionaire. Contract length has sometimes been a contentious issue between concessionaires and the National Park Service.
According to Lisa Davis, concessions specialist for the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is hoped that Bluffs Lodge and the nearby coffee shop will reopen for the 2012 season under a new concessionaire. Bluffs relatively small size, with only 24 rooms, makes it difficult to operate profitably.
The gift shop at Crabtree Falls (formerly called Crabtree Meadows) will remain open and serve as a bookstore for Eastern National. Snacks and other pre-packaged food items, visitor convenience items, and camping and picnic related items will also be offered for sale.
Rocky Knob Cabins and Mabry Mill will also remain open with a new concessionaire under a temporary two-year contract.
The two of us have stayed at Bluffs Lodge on six or seven occasions and our experiences have always been positive. The rooms are dated, but we view this as part of the appeal, and it certainly blends perfectly with the coffee shop that hasn’t changed much in appearance since its construction in 1948. On one occasion we walked to our room after checking in and discovered a guest from our neighboring room playing a harp on the balcony. You don’t find that at a Holiday Inn.
Here’s hoping a new concessionaire soon comes forth and offers rooms to parkway travelers who enjoy a great place to spend the night.