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2001 Classic Award

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Blue Ridge Parkway
Virginia and North Carolina

Stanley W. Abbott, Gilmore D. Clark, Edward H Abbuehl, H.E. van Gelder, Lynn M. Harris, George W. Wickstead, Thomas G. Heaton, Foster M. Warwick, C.R. Alt, Robert F. Elliott, Malcolm A. Bird, Albert S. Burns, Ralph W. Emerson, Arthur H. Beyer, Harry Baker, Robert A. Hope, Robert Hall, Warren Lewis, Ken McCarter, Warren Henderson, Bob Steinholtz, Robert E. Schreffler, Bruce Gregory, David Gaines, Gary W. Johnson, Linda Nebel Moery, Alan D. Hollister, Robert L. Felker, Colleen Bruce, James M. O'Shea Jr., Robert R. Welch, ASLA, William L. Witmer, Gail D. Stahlecker, Mark A. Pritchett, J. David Anderson, Laura Rotegard, Larry H. Hultquist

Gail D. Stahlecker
Landscape Architect
National Park Service
Denver Service Center
12795 W. Alameda Parkway
Denver, CO 80225-0287
Tel. 303-969-2284;
Fax 303-969-2736
Gail_Stahlecker@nps.gov


History of the project: The invention and availability of the automobile, the popularity of pleasure driving, and the advent of the Great Depression, which created an economic emergency for the struggling southern Appalachia region, all came together on the time line to initiate the concept of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The purpose of this project was to provide a 469-mile scenic route for pleasure driving between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to provide recreational opportunities en route, to provide employment in the economically depressed southern Appalachian region, and to provide economic value to the areas through which it passed.

The National Industrial Recovery Act of June 18, 1933, allowed the Public Works Administrator to develop a comprehensive program, which would include construction, repair, and the improvement of public roads. The basic principle underlying this and several previous acts was to provide for the construction of parkways in a manner that would protect, yet make available for public enjoyment the outstanding points of scenic beauty along the route. It also provided an anti-Depression measure and economic relief for the large numbers of unemployed in the Appalachian Mountain regions.

Actual planning and landscape design efforts for the parkway began December 26, 1933. To improve precision and coordination of planning, design, and administration, the entire parkway was divided into sections from north to south. The Virginia section was designated as "Section 1" with alphabetical subsections from 1-A through 1-W. The 1-1 and 1-0 designations were omitted to prevent errors in reading blueprints. North Carolina was designated as "Section 2" with subsections from 2-A through 2-Z with 2-1 and 2-0 being omitted. The first actual construction work began with Section 2-A in September 1935. This section of parkway began at the Virginia-North Carolina boundary and extended south 12.695 miles. Parkway construction did not follow a continuous linear progression. Instead, projects were scattered along the entire length of the parkway with priority given to projects that most easily opened scenic areas for public use and those that would provide employment where the unemployment relief needs were the greatest.

Four Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps were established along the parkway route. Private contractors working on the parkway were obligated by law to hire as much local labor as possible. Blue Ridge Parkway projects provided work for local residents from 1936 until the coming of World War II. By the time the war began, the parkway's landscape development plans were firmly in place and the parkway was approximately two-thirds complete. In 1941, however, the relief agencies such as the CCC were closed out and parkway construction was basically placed on hold because most of the support team had to depart for war duty. The labor force of the CCC was replaced, to a small degree, by the Civilian Public Service camps of Conscientious Objectors during the war years. The quality and quantity of their work, however, fell short of the work standards established by the CCC.

Following the end of World War II, funding from Congress was inadequate and revival of parkway construction was slow. A new program called Mission 66 eventually came along and gave new life and enthusiasm for the completion of the parkway. Little by little, and over the span of many years, the parkway approached completion.

The last section of parkway to be completed was section 2-H. This segment had to traverse a fragile, boulder-strewn area of Grandfather Mountain. After several years of disagreement and discussion among engineers, landscape architects, adjacent landowners, and political and technical specialists, an agreement was reached to traverse this environmentally sensitive terrain with a serpentine viaduct/bridge. The most sophisticated computer and engineering technology was applied to construct the double-S curved "Linn Cove Viaduct" from the top down. Working together, landscape architects and engineers were able to sensitively place this "most complicated segmental bridge ever built" into the delicate environment of Grandfather Mountain.

The completion of the Linn Cove Viaduct and section 2-H brought to close the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway project. As additional years have passed, since the completion of the parkway, the marks of construction have continued to heal and fade. As visitors travel the parkway and experience the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities, the challenge to preserve and protect the natural, cultural, and visual resources of the parkway now continues.

Role of the landscape architect(s): This project exemplifies the ability of landscape architects to blend man's needs into natural systems. The beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway is that it has been planned and designed so that it lies lightly on the land. It has been sensitively fit into the natural setting and appears to belong to the surrounding landscape. The public can see that with the use of sensitive planning and design, use of natural materials, and special attention to detail, the landscape architect can improve the quality of life for man and at the same time preserve the natural environment.

The first landscape architect served as acting superintendent and resident landscape architect. His responsibility was "to supervise and administer one of the most spectacular landscape programs this nation has ever witnessed." One of his first assignments was to assist in determining the general location of the parkway. He worked closely with a chief planner and chief architect of the National Park Service in analyzing all proposed routes and then filing their findings and recommendations with the director of the National Park Service. Once the route was determined, his next step was to work closely with a number of engineers to determine the alignment and cross-sections of the parkway road.

One of the greatest challenges for the landscape architect was to develop a program that would transform a landscape, which did not at the time possess sufficient natural beauty and environmental uniqueness to merit it for national park status, into a landscape of eye-catching beauty. To meet this challenge, a large staff of landscape architects was assigned the daily tasks of planning and designing all aspects of the parkway. Every bridge, sign, guardrail, picnic table, trail, parking overlook, and building - every item that the Park Service was to place on the parkway - required numerous drafts, revisions, reviews, approvals, and close supervision during construction. The landscape architects' touch of healing, rehabilitating, and beautifying was applied to each mile of the parkway. Their responsibility was to ensure that everything would blend, mold together, and merge with the existing features to fulfill the prescribed objective of establishing a "museum of managed countryside." The landscape work was so well executed that it is difficult to tell today where the landscape architects' work ends and that of nature begins. The average parkway visitor is totally unaware that much of the beauty that is being enjoyed reflects the landscape architects' touch and the labor of hundreds of workers.

Even though the parkway has been completed, it remains a living and changing feature in the landscape. The living elements along the parkway continue to mature, die, and regenerate new growth. The man-made elements have deteriorated over time and need to be repaired, rehabilitated, and at times replaced. Surrounding development is threatening the original viewsheds, and there are demands to upgrade existing two-lane highways crossing the parkway to four-lane highways. Today landscape architects continue to play a critical role in preserving and protecting the original intent, purpose, and character of the parkway. They must work closely with designers to introduce new elements into the parkway landscape in conjunction with maintenance crews, surrounding government agencies, planners, developers, and local citizens in an effort to help maintain a superior quality of planning, design, and construction on the parkway. Their role is essential in preserving and maintaining the aesthetic quality and character that places it in the ranks of one of our national treasures.

Significance

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of man's greatest achievements during the 20th century. It is the first rural national parkway and served as a proving ground for many concepts and principles that are now firmly established and followed on other parkways throughout the world. Unlike many of the national park areas that were established in pristine wilderness areas of the country, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a restored landscape. The parkway alignment was constructed through only a few areas that remained in a natural unspoiled state. Much of the land had been cut-over forests, cultivated farmland, There was a total absence of natural lakes, the streams and rivers were muddy due to erosion, and the few scenic areas along the alignment had been commercialized, which greatly reduced their recreational value. The conservation program in which this scenic parkway was to be developed was described as "a museum of managed American countryside," and this concept led to the conversion of 469 miles of ordinary countryside into a thing of eye-catching beauty.

This project not only provided relief for the Appalachian Mountain region during the Great Depression, but has continually been a major attraction and major economic catalyst for the tourism industry in this region. The parkway has become not only a major attraction to visitors worldwide but is extensively used by the citizens of the local communities for leisurely drives, picnicking, cycling, camping, hiking, jogging, fishing, cross-country skiing, and other activities.

With 20 million visitors a year, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit in the national park system. Although popular in the past, its value is ever increasing as a visual and recreational resource for the growing urban populations. As a linear park created for pleasure driving through scenic countryside, the mobility-impaired and our aging population can also enjoy the parkway experience because of its ride-a-while and stop-a-while planning and design concept.

 

 


2001 Award Winners
Press Release
 
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