The Northern Highlands Chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway almost didn’t make it through Alleghany County. Original plans called for a route that would have taken the scenic highway through Tennessee and on into Virginia. Laurel Springs’ native, Congressman Robert Lee “Bob” Doughton lobbied for a North Carolina path for the Parkway. According to the documentary, A Long and Winding Road, a deal was struck that brokered Doughton’s support for President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act in exchange for the Parkway to pass through North Carolina. There may be many political or social arguments made for or against that deal and the resulting legislation. Those arguments aside, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gem for Alleghany County that continues to shine brightly due to the diligent work of an enthusiastic group of volunteers.
The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway are dedicated to the preservation and stewardship of the Parkway’s natural and cultural resources. Along the 469 mile linear national park, several local groups operate under the umbrella of the larger friends group.
The Northern Highlands Chapter is responsible for the section of Parkway from the North Carolina/Virginia line to Deep Gap, roughly 50 or so miles. In addition to organized group activities such as the recent cleanup at Doughton Park, individuals adopt overlooks, trails, cemeteries, etc. Last year this chapter contributed 5500 volunteer hours.
Within this group are individuals from varied backgrounds. Alleghany County natives Ronald and Debby Edwards contribute many hours to their adopted overlooks – Wildcat Rocks and Alligator Backs. In addition to routine maintenance, both are chainsaw certified with the national park service which allows them to help remove fallen trees and limbs.
In contrast, husband and wife, Dennis Tremble and Nancy Kish, were drawn to Alleghany later in life, in part by the Parkway. Along with two other couples, they have resumed gardening at Brinegar Cabin. There they cultivate an authentic, subsistence garden that utilizes heirloom plants. They also plant flax which when harvested is spun into yarn. They can be found most Tuesdays working the garden throughout the summer months.
All these individuals donate their time and efforts out of a love for the Parkway. However, the impact of their maintenance and educational work extends well beyond an emotional connection. According to a 2017 press release, visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway spent $979,334,200 in local communities across those 469 miles. Having clean, safe overlooks and other facilities encourage those visitors to stop and spend time in those communities. While blowing leaves, cleaning ditches and gardening may not seem like economic development work, in reality it is that very thing.
When “Farmer Bob” Doughton struck that deal with FDR during the height of the Great Depression, he may have had a variety of motivations. The nation was locked in the throes of the Great Depression and the project put many local men to work. Some may point to the Social Security Act as New Deal policies that changed how the government positively or negatively interacts with our personal lives depending on one’s perspective. But, the one thing on which most will agree is that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great asset to Alleghany County. And while they often go unnoticed, the Northern Highlands Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is committed to ensuring that this asset is well maintained and ready for visitors.
Photos courtesy of the Northern Highlands Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway
If you would like to know more about how you can volunteer with the Northern Highlands Chapter contact Joyce Speas at 336-601-6118 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org