We have both good and bad news to report following our return from a week-long drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The good news is that the experience of an October drive on Parkway is one of life‘s great pleasures. The combination of colors, vistas, and stops along the way make for a nearly perfect fall trip. Much of our time was spent in the Roanoke area, where the morning air was crisp, the mountains were bathed in color, and there were many things to see and do. Upon returning to south Georgia, the two of us agreed that we should have planned to stay longer.
Now for the bad news.
There is a real possibility three of the four lodging facilities on the Blue Ridge Parkway will close or remain closed following the 2012 season. Bluffs Lodge and nearby Bluffs Coffee Shop at Daughton Park have now been shuttered for two seasons following former concessionaire Forever Resorts' decision not to pursue a renewal. The National Park Service was unable to attract another concessionaire to take on the properties.
Peaks of Otter Lodge is expected to close in November (it is generally open year-round) when current concessionaire Crestline Hotels & Resorts fulfills its existing contract. Rocky Knob Cabins is currently being operated by the concessionaire handling Mabry Mill and the Northwest Trading Post. The contracts for Rocky Knob Cabins and the Northwest Trading Post expire at the end of the current season. Mabry is nearing the end of the first year of operation as part of a two-year temporary contract.
The National Park Service has seemingly been unsuccessful in attracting interest in the prospectus covering the future operation of Bluffs, Rocky Knob, and Peaks of Otter that closed October 24. The NPS in April issued a prospectus that packaged the three lodges plus the coffee shop in hopes that Peaks would be sufficiently attractive for a prospective concessionaire to take on Rocky Knob and Bluffs, two small properties (7 cabins and 24 rooms, respectively) that are likely to be money-losers.
It appears the NPS will now offer Peaks of Otter Lodge under a separate contract in hopes of keeping at least one of the three properties open for the upcoming season. To make the proposal more enticing, it is expected the NPS will buy down a portion of the nearly $2.7 million the new concessionaire would be required to pay the outgoing concessionaire for inventory, personal property, and a leasehold interest.
A source indicated the NPS feels reasonably confident that a concessionaire will be found for Peaks of Otter Lodge. There is also the possibility that Rocky Knob Cabins and Mabry Mill can again be packaged together with revenues at Mabry helping to offset losses at the cabins. The outlook for Bluffs Lodge and Bluffs Coffee Shop appears grim unless the Park Service can come up with funds to undertake needed renovations to the facilities.
Pisgah Inn, the fourth lodging facility on the Blue Ridge Parkway appears to be profitable. The contract for Pisgah Inn expires in 2014 and current concessionaire is expected to bid for the new contract.
In other concession news for the Parkway, the NPS has reportedly been unsuccessful in attracting bids to operate the restaurant and campground at Otter Creek. The same has been true for the Northwest Trading Post, where the existing concessionaire indicated it would not bid on the contract. The contract for the Folk Art Center near Asheville, North Carolina, was recently awarded to the Southern Highland Craft Guild.