Parkway History

As the most visited National Park Service area, The Blue Ridge Parkway was the first national rural parkway to be conceived, designed, and constructed as a leisure-type driving experience. The highest and longest continuous route in the Appalachian area, the Parkway extends 469 miles through the Blue Ridge, Black, Great Craggy, Great Balsam, and Plot Balsam Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina ? and serves as a direct link to Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.

On September 11, 1935, construction of the first 12.5-mile section began near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina. The Parkway was not constructed as one continuous project, but instead was divided into 45 separate construction units. This approach was necessitated by delays in acquiring land, but it also enabled Parkway contractors to hire more people to work at the same time.

While most construction was carried out by private contractors, a variety of New Deal public works programs including the Works Progress Administration and Emergency Relief Administration played important roles in the Parkway?s development. The best-known public work program was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Four CCC camps were established on the Parkway, and their crews of young men toiled at roadside cleanup, planting, grading slopes for scenic effect, and improving roadside fields and forests.

By the mid-1950s, only about one-half of the Blue Ridge Parkway had been completed. The impetus for the completion of most of the remaining sections was a multi-year National Park Service development program known as Mission 66. Under this ten-year program, the pace of construction accelerated. By its end in 1966, the Parkway was more than 95% complete, but it would take another two decades to complete the 7.7-mile ?missing link? at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.

In the 1970s the Park Service finally determined a route that would cause minimal damage to Grandfather Mountain?s rugged terrain. A key feature of this route was the revolutionary Linn Cove Viaduct, which was completed in 1987 and opened the entire route of the Parkway ? all 469 miles, from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ? to public travel.

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