The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through over 469 miles of mountain scenery and habitats in Virginia and North Carolina. When originally built this road was in what many would consider the middle of nowhere providing access for new populations to experience Southern Appalachian natural and cultural environments. In many cases visitors fell in love with the region and its charms. As a result the number of homes and communities along the edges of the Park has grown. Over time many adjacent home and property owners have wanted their own piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The National Park Service has identified approximately 400 illegally built trails within the park providing access to the Parkway road. More than 40 of these trails exist in the Roanoke area alone and are being used by pedestrians and bicyclists.
Most users of these trails do not see any problem with cutting trees and brush and in some cases constructing steps on park lands since it makes it personally convenient for them to gain access to the park from their home. In some other areas trees have been topped and even removed within the park to open up views for home owners. I have even seen these accesses and views used as an enticement for real estate sales.
Approximately five years ago the Park Service attempted to close off several of the illegally cut trails in the Roanoke area. People immediately started contacting their Congressional representatives, local politicians, and the news media to paint a dark picture of evil park rangers stopping their fun. As a result the Blue Ridge Parkway has spent several years studying the situation and developing a proposed trail management plan for the Roanoke area of the Park. A lot of time, expense, and effort have been spent by the Park Service just in planning to deal with this problem.
Granted my opinion is tainted by more than 32 years as a park ranger dealing with many similar issues. I guess the points I keep coming back to are these:
The trails were built illegally in violation of federal regulations without permission from the Park Service. Were the park staff to build such a trail there are numerous requirements for cultural and natural resource impact studies to be completed and approved to ensure such construction does not damage valuable or irreplaceable plants, habitats, or archeological sites. Considerations are required as to the safety of the trail and its access point into the roadway. None of the builders of these trails went through this process or even considered such impacts on public lands.
The construction of the trails impacted resources that the Park Service is charged with protecting. Cutting limbs, trees, and shrubbery are all violations of regulations within National Parks. Many of these trails also cause eventual issues with erosion of sparse and valuable soils in mountain areas. This erosion further damages root systems of other plants and trees adjacent to the trails.
The placing of these trails and the reaction of the public to attempts to close them are examples of how many have become more interested in what can benefit them as an individual than on how their actions will affect others.
It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be from these neighboring land owners if someone came onto their property without permission and started cutting vegetation to open a short cut to another house.