The Blue Ridge Parkway adjoins several National Forests along its 469 mile route through two states. Although hunting is prohibited in the park it is allowed on National Forests. The National Park Service has provided a service that allowed sportsmen to obtain a Hunter Access Permit that granted the ability to park in designated overlooks, uncase their unloaded weapons, place hunting dogs on leashes, and then go directly to the boundary entering onto National Forest lands and then begin to hunt. The permit then allowed the hunters to bring their legally taken game back to their vehicle in the park and transport it off Park Service lands at the nearest practical access point.
The permits have been free of charge and but restricted to those with valid state hunting licenses. The reason for requiring the permit is twofold.
1. Until February of 2010 it was illegal to possess a weapon on National Park Service property.
2. It remains illegal to possess natural features including legally taken wildlife from outside the park within the park
The Hunter Access Permit provided permission for hunters to disregard both these regulations.
Now that firearms are permitted in our National Parks the management of the Blue Ridge Parkway is re-examining the need for these permits since in most areas of the park it is now legal to possess loaded firearms. It appears that they will be doing away with the Hunter Access Permits and allow hunters to park anywhere in the park. Hunters will then be able to access any adjoining property including private lands. If hunters kill game legally outside the park, they will need to contact The Blue Ridge Parkway’s dispatcher in Asheville, NC or a park ranger before they transport the animal into the park and load it in their vehicle. This is not as simple as it may seem since some hunters have already pointed out that they do not have cell phones and there are many dead spots with no cellular phone coverage in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hunting which includes attempting to take and perusing wildlife, and discharging a firearm or weapon within the boundaries of the Blue Ridge Parkway are still prohibited. Dogs are required to be on a six foot lead while within the park boundaries.
Another point of interest in all these changes is that regulations are now more restrictive about loaded firearms on National Forest Service lands where hunting is permitted than in National Parks where hunting is prohibited. A person can now carry a loaded firearm in their vehicle on The Blue Ridge Parkway anytime. In the National Forests of Virginia they can only carry firearms during hunting seasons and if in a vehicle the weapon must be unloaded.
Many hunters are rightfully saying that keeping track of where they are and which regulations apply may be confusing. The challenges for park rangers to determine who is breaking the law and who is not will also be more difficult and complex.
But life is change and I know that National Park Rangers are more than up to the task of adapting to these new tests.
For more information on the Hunter Access Permit or hunting on or near the Blue Ridge Parkway you can contact Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett at (828) 271-4779 ext. 239.