Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bluffs Coffee Shop and Lodge Not To Open This Spring On The Blue Ridge Parkway

While working as a park ranger in the subdistrict of the Blue Ridge Parkway that includes Doughton Park I spent many a fond time in the Bluffs Coffee Shop.  I think that at least for 15 minutes my desire for "Big Otis" ice cream sandwiches was legendary.  After serving and delighting park visitors since 1949 this will be the first spring the Coffee Shop and Lodge will not open for business.  This is due to contracts expiring and the failure to find a new proprietor to take over the operation.

In addition to providing services to visitors, the Coffee Shop and Lodge have provided employment for local residents.  One of the shining examples of these workers is Ellen Smith who has waited tables every season since the Coffee Shop opened.  Ellen and her husband Paul are both on my list of the best people I have ever known.  Their kindness, caring, and sharing of life are legendary among an army of young park rangers and their families that were fortunate enough to live at the Bluff's Maintenance Area.  I can not begin to count the times that the Smiths helped out my wife, new born son, and myself during our time there.

We would often half joke that if Ellen ever decided to quit her job at the Coffee Shop they would just have to shut down.  It is a sad day but a credit to Ellen that the Coffee Shop gave out before she did.

Although Ellen's record is unsurpassed, Kathryn Joines is right behind her with only 55 years service as a waitress at the Coffee Shop.  Employee loyalty like this is hard to find.

This same contractual fate is lurking over other Blue Ridge Parkway concessions facilities.  In Virginia the Peaks of Otter contract has also expired.  In this case the existing company has agreed to a one year extension to allow the park to find a replacement.  Hopefully this gesture will provide enough time to prevent an eventual shut down.  There is always hope as the National Park Service continues its attempt to find a new contractor and that the concession facilities at Doughton Park will reopen sometime in the future.

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