Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bikes On The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is presently attempting to complete the six or more year process of developing a General Management Plan (GMP).  This document is essential for establishing the management direction and policy development for any National Park area.  Although the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit in the National Park Service and was first established in 1936, it has never had a GMP.

This lack of a GMP has at times resulted in a publicly perceived flip flopping of management on priorities and at times a dearth of direction for supervisors in making decisions on controversial topics of civic interest.  The lack of a GMP has also hindered the Park in justifying additional funding for preservation programs and staffing.

The GMP process has been started several times during the history of the Blue Ridge Parkway only to die before it can be completed due to lack of funding and the complexity of developing a single plan that covers all the resources, communities, and special interests along a 469 mile park.  During my career I served on two GMP planning teams.  The first was part of a dying effort.  The second was the beginning of the process now coming to fruition.

When the current process started the public was asked for comments to determine their highest priority of issues facing the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The number one issue, far ahead of any other, concerned the use of bicycles on the Parkway.  This surprised park staff and planners.  What was even more surprising was that these comments were split right down the middle.  Half were in favor of cycling and the other half against even allowing bicycles in the park.  This level of interest prompted the planning team to contract with David Evans and Associates to conduct a Bicycling Feasibility study for the park.  The report examined present use patterns and looked at the practicality of infrastructure improvements to accommodate bicycles in high use areas.  The final report was very much in favor of encouraging the use of bikes in the park.

Now that the GMP is reaching its final stage of public review and comment some cyclist are reading into the plan’s reference to the park’s original enabling legislation’s wording establishing a “motor road” and predicting that bikes could be banned from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I would call this a bit reactionary and based on my experience working with management of the park I can say with certainty that there is no intent or thought to put an end to cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   As a cyclist myself, I have every confidence that people will be able to enjoy bicycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway for generations to come.  After all, that is what our National Parks and the National Park Service that manages them are all about.

See what Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis had to say on this topic at:

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