Much-needed improvements -- better parking, trail signage, and even restrooms -- are coming to the Graveyard Fields area along the Blue Ridge Parkway thanks in part to a fund-raising campaign by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.
The area, located at milepost 418, has suffered from overuse, and the improvements are expected to improve visitor safety and lead to better experiences. According to foundation officials, "on any given weekend during the parkway’s high season, parking at this popular overlook south of Mt. Pisgah extends onto the Blue Ridge Parkway motor road."
“Safety and access have become important concerns for us,” Don Coleman, the supervising park ranger for the Asheville south district, told the foundation staff. “We want to do the best job we can to insure our visitors have a safe and enjoyable access to this unique area.”
Foundation officials say that adding "a restroom was an early obvious proposed solution but other challenges paint a more complicated picture – unfavorable sightlines for approaching vehicles, speed limit, vandalism, limited parking, erosion control, trail compaction, frequent search and rescue incidences, high popularity, prime blueberry picking, two scenic waterfalls, dispersed undesignated camping, less than adequate signage, a unique almost alpine environment."
The work is being performed thanks to a $261,336 National Scenic Byways grant to the parkway as well as $65,334 in cash from the foundation. The foundation has already funded $20,000 of design services and secured more than $10,000 in pro bono design work for the project. You can help contribute to this work at this site.
The work will be carried out by a partnership of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. It has not yet been scheduled.
To get a feel for this landscape, check out the following video, which runs about a minute.
How did the area get its name? That's a good question, and here's an answer provided by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation:
Although no one knows for certain how the area came to be known as “Graveyard Fields,” the leading theory is that a tremendous windstorm several hundred years ago uprooted the spruce forest leaving behind stumps that gave the area the appearance of a graveyard. Other theories speculate that logging in the early 20th century prior to the area being under the management of the U.S. Forest Service left tree stumps covered in moss resembling gravestones.
What is documented is that Graveyard Fields also experienced catastrophic fires, once in 1925 and again in the early 1940s. These fires swept through the area, burning for days, destroying the stumps and scorching the soil enough to render it sterile, changing the appearance of the once dense evergreen forest.
At 5,120 feet in elevation, the unusually flat valley is like an upside-down “bald,” with fields of high-elevation grasses and shrubs surrounding the tributaries of the Yellowstone Prong River. True bald mountaintops, such as Black Balsam Mountain, surround the valley. Although the trees and shrubs are beginning to grow back in places, periodic smaller fires have swept the area, preservinging the alpine meadow-like appearance.