Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway Snow Gates

The closing of snowgates during the winter on the Blue Ridge Parkway can be a nuisance to visitors and park neighbors. The Park Management and Park Rangers' concern for public safety are the driving force behind this practice. Many sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are inherently dangerous to plow due to the elevation, asspect, and slope of the road surface. I have personally witnessed snow plows going over the side of the mountain due to ice underlying the snow.

Unfortunately, some people can not contain their desire to get their vehicles into closed areas and will break the locks or chains on gates to open them. The culprits may drive through safely, but those who follow behind finding the gates open may assume the way ahead is safe and drive into hazardous conditions.

In 1986 two young men found a snow gate that had been broken open on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. They drove through the gates in their sedan and within a few miles became hopelessly stuck in the snow. One decided to walk ahead to the closed visitor center he knew was at Craggy Gardens. The other argued and decided to retrace their route back to the gate. The boy that trudged to the gate was lucky to be met by a State Park Ranger. His friend's body was later found in the snow near Craggy Gardens his having died from exposure.

The moral is to never enter closed areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway when the gates are locked or even hanging open as seen in the photo above. You will just be asking for trouble well beyond any scolding or violation notice from a Park Ranger.

The ultimate responsibility for opening or closing sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway fall on the District Rangers. They are constantly monitoring weather conditions and forecasts during the winter to open sections of the park when ever possible. It is hard to please the public in this matter. I recall the time I received two Congressional complaints in one week. One was from a group of bear hunters complaining that we did not plow the road so it could be opened to allow access to their favorite hunting grounds. The other complaint was from cross country skiers complaining that we plowed to much and destroyed the pristine snow they needed for their skiing. I had to answer both groups concerns even though they were about 180 degrees apart.

The moral of that one is that you can not please all the people all the time.

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