ONE OF THE GREATEST GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIPS IS 75 YEARS OLD IN SEPTEMBER 2010
The Blue Ridge Parkway's 469 meandering miles of milepost (MP)-lined, billboard-free bliss got its start on September 11, 1935. After 52 years of construction, the parkway was completed, and it follows the spine of the Blue Ridge from Virginia's Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Along the way, riveting scenery ranges from pastoral to pristine as the road rises and falls, swerves and curves through the rippled realm of eastern America's highest mountains. At a sedate 45-mph speed limit, it's a relaxing reprieve from almost any other drive you can imagine on a public road. Hundreds of overlooks invite you to pull off and gaze out over the region that was America's first frontier, the first barrier to westward expansion.
Motoring the parkway is recommended by more than an anniversary and the commemorative events scheduled to take place in the fall of 2010. The parkway took a long time to build, but some of its pivotal visitor facilities have just opened. The road's major visitor center, a meadow-roofed "green" building in Asheville, North Carolina (MP 384), debuted in 2009, and the Blue Ridge Music Center (Galax, Virginia, MP 213), a toe-tapping place if there ever was one, is just reaching a crescendo of exhibits and music programming.
There's something to see in every mile of the high road. Historic cabins, a grist mill, visitor centers, exhibits, and living history displays take visitors back in time to an era not so long ago when the region was isolated, impoverished, and misunderstood. Conditions in some hollows at the parkway's heights were remarkably primitive as recently as when the road got under way. Many locals didn't think a modern road ever would penetrate their "mountain empire." When it did, the Depression-era public works project not only brought much-needed tourism income to the highlands, but provided transportation options that boosted many a local economy. To this day, some mountain residents find that the fastest route between home and work is the Blue Ridge Parkway.