A new National Park Service report shows that more than 14.5 million visitors spent $299 million along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in surrounding communities in 2010. That spending supported more than 4,008 jobs.

Under the same economic model, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park claims its 9 million visitors spent over $818 million in the gateway communities surrounding the Park, with 11,367 local jobs were supported by Park visitor spending.

"The people and the business owners in communities near national parks have always known their economic value," said Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis. "The Blue Ridge Parkway is clean, green fuel for the engine that drives our local economy."

The figures are included in an overall total of $12 billion spent by 281 million visitors in 394 national parks and nearby communities, which are reported in an annual, peer-reviewed, visitor spending analysis conducted by a Michigan State University professor for the National Park Service.

Most of the spending and jobs is related to lodging, food, and beverage service (52 percent) followed by other retail (29 percent); entertainment and amusements (10 percent); gas and local transportation (7 percent); and groceries (2 percent).

To download the report visit www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/products.cfm#MGM and click on Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2010.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is looking for ways to help the Blue Ridge Parkway trim its chronic overgrowth troubles.

The parkway doesn’t have the money or resources to regularly trim trees that encroach upon its many overlooks, a persistant problem over the years further exacerbated by federal budget cuts. The natural vantage points are one of the top tourist draws along the parkway.

The Haywood tourism agency feared the overgrown overlooks would mean less visitors traveling the scenic road, and several years ago came up with the idea of paying to cut the trees itself. But budget concerns of its own have prevented the tourism entity from sticking with its tree-cutting campaign consistently.

At its meeting last Wednesday, the tourism board talked about a couple of different approaches it could take in the coming year to cut the overgrowth.

The county tourism agency is considering giving the parkway money to hire seasonal workers for two months. The parkway could use its existing seasonal maintenance staff and simply extend their contract by an additional two months to focus on overlook clearing. For those two months, the workers would focus specifically on the appearance of Haywood County’s nearly 70 overlooks.

“The parkway hires those people (seasonal employees) to start in May, and what we might consider doing is paying to bring them on in March and pay them for March and April,” said Lynn Collins, director to the tourism agency.

The total cost for the additional months depends on how many seasonal employees the parkway hires, Collins said. The tourism agency would give the parkway $6,500 per employee and must give the parkway a commitment by January.

Agency officials also contemplated working with Haywood Community College’s forestry students or friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the makeover and maintain the overlooks.

Seconds after I heard the doorbell, my little feet hit the stone floor landing that served to separate the front door from the living room. The cold temperature of the floor on my feet meant it was colder outside. Thanksgiving was only two days away, it was dark and Dad was late coming home from work.

It was my father’s good job with the railroad that let my mom stay home and take care of us kids. All I knew is that he left for work early in the morning and got home before it was dark; I was 7 years old then.

I wrapped both hands around the doorknob, turned, and the big metal door opened. There stood three men in full suits; they were the darkest clothes I ever did see. “Is Mrs. Corbeil home?” one asked. “I’ll get her,” I replied.

Mom was on her way from the kitchen because she heard the doorbell ring too. She invited the men in on the landing. I’ll always remember that smell, a man’s smell. The businessman’s pungent odor from the mixture of fumes from heavy cigarette smoke and the leftover cover scent cologne purchased at a discount store. The smell still resonates decades later; for I am now a man.

“Mrs. Corbeil, we are from the Railroad and we need to tell you of an awful accident that happened in the yard,” a rough and choked voice said. Neither of the three would look at me, the man who broke the silence first reached out with his hand to my mom.

“There was an explosion at the yard, four men were hurt and Ed, Ed was badly burned and did not survive.” Edward M. was my father. I took off running through the living room and down the hall. My bedroom was the last one at the end. When I reached my room I busted out crying, drove my head with open mouth into a pillow wailing, wailing like there was no tomorrow, wishing that doorbell never rang ... crying.

In our world today we have access to professional psychologists and counselors for the young and adults. There are organized support groups that can help a spouse begin to reason with the heartache, loneliness, anger, and guilt that can follow a person the rest of their lives from a tragic life changing event like the lost of a parent, significant other or child These structured support services often require financial resources to gain access.

Ten years ago 343 firemen and paramedics were killed from the attacks on the World Trade Center. A total of 2,819 people lost their lives either at one of the two Towers, at the Pentagon Building or on United Airlines flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. It is estimated on New York Mag.com that 3,051 children lost a parent.

A decade later, I will be honoring those who lost their lives by bicycling 10 days on a memorial ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In our own region of the world there was another tragic explosion and fire that took the life of firemen Captain Jeff Bowen on July 28, 2011.

I have teamed with the Mission Hospital’s Healthcare Foundation to provide a path to accept donations to build the Fallen Firefighters Fund that will provide financial support for his surviving wife and three children. The days, months and years ahead will be accompanied with second-guessing, fear, and self-doubt. The Bowen family will need human support to cope with the loss of a husband and father; to live again sooner than later, to build self-worth and achieve total forgiveness moving forward.

If you find it in your heart to take action and join us, thank you! There is a link to a secured web site that will take you directly to the 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride with more information. http://support.missionfoundation.org/site/PageNavigator/911MemorialBikeRide.html. Once on the web page there is a link to a news article about the July 28 fire, along with buttons on the left side to follow my journey or learn more about our team, and donate.

Come join me in this 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride by showing your monetary support, or meet me at a Milepost and ride with me; add the link above to your favorites on your web browser then click on the button “Follow Keith on Twitter” for updates of the trip.

To mail a donation make your check payable to Mission Healthcare Foundation with a written Memo message of “9/11 Memorial Bike Ride” Mail a check to: Mission Healthcare Foundation, 980 Hendersonville Road, Suite C; Asheville, NC 28803-1740. To donate by telephone call Ms. Shaana Norton at 828.213.1052.

Keith Corbeil is a father, performance consultant, and competitive tri-athlete and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lots of folks like to study those molded relief maps of the region, the ones that show the upraised contours of the mountain ranges. Some have even pieced together the maps for the Southern Blue Ridge Province from Southwestern Virginia to North Georgia as wall hangings, making it possible to contemplate in miniature the glorious terrain we call home.

It’s pleasurable to sit in an easy chair on a rainy day and ponder the way the ridges join or meditate over how they might have looked before eons of erosion wore them down into their present configuration. Even more rewarding is a venture to a local vista for a panoramic look-see at the real thing.

In one sense, of course, high vistas are places that enable us to rise above our everyday humdrum existence and take in grand scenery, even when we don’t know exactly what we’re looking at. As one writer aptly phrased it, “There’s wonder and delight up there ... elbow room for the soul ... all you have to do is suspend judgment and analysis long enough simply to be there, on the mountain, experiencing it.”

Well, no one would want to fail to take in the beauty or be exhilarated, but we also shouldn’t forget that Blue Ridge vistas are windows that allow us to see and comprehend more truly. A little “analysis” from time to time won’t hurt.

On a clear day, you can observe the bare bones of the land and come to a fuller understanding of the exact lay of the land. The thoughtful choice of a series of strategic vistas in your particular section of the Blue Ridge will enable you to observe just where the major ranges abut and how the peaks, spurs, gaps, upland valleys, streams, rock cliffs, gorges, grassy balds and other topographical features fall into place. You will come away with a more precise notion of your place in the world.

Because we’ve lived in the Tuckasegee River valley on the southern edge of the Smokies for the last 40 or so years, my wife and I have concentrated our attention on the interior portion of the Southern Blue Ridge Province from the Great Smokies on the west and north, to the Nantahalas in the south, and the Balsams in the east. One of our greatest satisfactions while driving or walking is being able to look up and recognize specific peaks and ranges by name, to know how they interconnect and relate to the remote cove we live in. They have become old friends. Each new lookout visited, each new mountain range recognized by its distinctive shape adds acreage to our spiritual landscape.

Among our favorite vistas are Wayah Bald (5,342 feet) in the Nantahalas, Waterrock Knob (6,292 feet) in the Plott Balsams along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Clingman’s Dome (6,643 feet) on the high divide of the Smokies along the N.C.-Tenn. state lines. All three can be reached directly by vehicle within a single day. When it’s clear, one can easily see the 30 or so miles from each of these vantage points to the other two corners in what is a vast triangle. This triangulation technique allows an observer to view a given terrain from various directions and fit together landscape in an efficient manner.

Waterrock Knob is a fun place to visit because it attracts such a mix of visitors: drive-by tourists looking for the next overlook; thoughtful tourists savoring a special spot; plant enthusiasts seeking out species restricted to the northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests (yellow birch, spreading wood fern, mountain ash, etc.); birders looking for high-elevation species (ravens, golden-crowned kinglets, winter wrens, etc.); frisbee-catching college students; sunset and sunrise watchers; hikers, walkers, and strollers; and so on. I like remote, difficult-to-access spots, but I also like places where a diverse gathering of people are having fun. I like to watch them go about their chosen activities.

Just last week, I found out about the upcoming “Blue Ridge Parkway: Celebrating Heritage and Communities” event that will take place this coming Saturday at Waterrock Knob. Nevertheless, I wanted to support the event if possible. So I contacted BRP ranger Pam Mann and offered to do a nature walk and talk of about 45 minutes duration starting at 3 p.m. I’ll talk some about the geologic-geographic setting. I’ll have with me a handout for the field guides I use for general natural history as well as for trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, grasses and wildflowers in Western North Carolina. (And I’ll also bring copies of the actual books and source materials). Then we’ll go walking (slowly) and see what we may see. I hope that you will join me in support of one of our great national treasures.        

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Another 110 acres of mountain landscape are now part of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s protected corridor, thanks to a landowner whose family has lived near the scenic highway since its construction.

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina bought the tract from landowners Joe and Wilma Jo Arrington last year at a bargain sale price. It recently conveyed the tract to the National Park Service in February for $500,000 to become an official part of the Parkway.

The property, known as the Richland Creek Headwaters tract, is near Milepost 440 in Haywood County. The Arrington family purchased it in 1936. When parkway construction reached the region in the late 1950s, 30 of the family’s 188 acres were condemned and used for the site of Pinnacle Ridge Tunnel.

The Richland Creek Headwaters tract provides a backdrop for Blue Ridge Parkway travelers – especially from the Waynesville and Saunook overlooks – near the boundary of Haywood and Jackson counties in the Great Balsam Mountains.

The tract’s position will help safeguard water quality in the region; the property contains headwaters streams of Richland Creek, which flows through Waynesville and into Lake Junalaska. The land also contains important wildlife habitat in the Pinnacle Ridge Significant Natural Area.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) recently protected Blackrock Ridge in northern Jackson County, a striking and important component of the Plott Balsam Mountains. The Plott Balsams, which reach 6,000 feet in elevation, tower above Waynesville, Sylva and Cherokee. Blackrock Ridge is a 60-acre parcel just a little south and west of Waterrock Knob, which is located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Blackrock Ridge lies within the Yellow Face/Blackrock Mountain State Natural Heritage Area and Audubon North Carolina’s Plott Balsams Important Bird Area. The tract ascends Blackrock Mountain where it adjoins The Nature Conservancy’s 1,595-acre Plott Balsam Preserve.

According to Jay Leutze, SAHC trustee, the organization had been negotiating with the landowner when it learned the property was going to be auctioned.

“We had five days to raise donor funds,” Leutze said. “We’re fortunate — we don’t have a lot of bureaucracy — and we can be pretty nimble,” he said. SAHC was nimble enough to be high bidder and purchased the tract for around $110,000.

The tract is located near the newly created Pinnacle Park (Sylva’s old watershed), and trails maintained by natural resources students from Western Carolina University link the Blackrock Tract and Pinnacle Park.

Leutze said SAHC was extremely happy to be able to preserve the Blackrock tract. “It’s in a larger assemblage of private tracts and would have surely been developed,” he said.



The proximity to thousands of acres of already protected wilderness makes the tract important as a wildlife corridor. Blackrock Ridge attains an elevation of 5,600 feet, making it an ideal habitat for high-elevation species like the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel. According to Leutze, Carolina northern flying squirrels have been documented on The Nature Conservancy’s Plott Balsam Preserve and the protection of this tract will add further protection and preserve more suitable habitat for the endangered flying squirrel.

Protection of the tract also helps preserve the cultural heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who have strong ties to the craggy peaks of the Plott Balsams.


A nice fit

Leutze said that SAHC breaks the regional landscape up into “focus areas.”

“This allows us to focus on who would be likely partners and where to find likely donors for particular projects,” he said Blackrock Ridge falls within SAHC’s “Smoky Mountains Focus Area.”

“The Smoky Mountains Focus Area, of course, includes efforts to try and help buffer the Park [Great Smoky Mountains National Park] but it also provides the opportunity to try and protect outstanding high-elevation sites like this one that don’t have a lot of protection,” he said.

And parcels that help protect the integrity of the Blue Ridge Parkway viewshed help protect the goose that lays the golden egg.

“A 2007-2008 study noted that 90 percent of the visitors that come to the Blue Ridge Parkway come for the view,” said Carolyn Ward, the new head of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation (BRPF).

That translates into about $2.3 billion for communities adjacent to the Parkway.

“Those of us who live in the area know the value of protecting our natural resources and anytime we can add land, whether by purchase or by an easement, it helps protect that resource,” said Ward.

Ward said that the one of the BRPF’s projects for 2011 would be to help design guidelines for protecting viewsheds along the scenic byway that celebrated its 75th birthday in 2010.

Ward said the foundation would not only focus on the technical aspects and/or options for protecting tracts of land that would be useful to landowners and organizations and agencies but also work on outreach and education for residents to help them see the incredible value of the resource.

“Protecting our viewsheds is critical,” she said.



About SAHC

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy — headquartered in Asheville — is one of the oldest land trusts in the country.

SAHC was founded in 1974 and works to conserve the unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, local farmland and scenic beauty of the mountains of North Carolina and east Tennessee for the benefit of present and future generations. SAHC achieves this by forging and maintaining conservation relationships with landowners and public agencies, owning and managing land, and working with communities to accomplish their conservation objectives.

SAHC’s flagship project is protecting the Highlands of Roan in Mitchell and Avery counties North Carolina and in Carter County in Tennessee. But its focus areas include the Smoky Mountains, Newfound and Walnut Mountains, Pisgah Ridge and Balsam Mountains, Black Mountains and the Mountains of East Tennessee.

To learn more about the SAHC visit www.appalachian.org.

Dr. Carolyn Ward of Asheville was recently named as head of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.

Ward replaces Dr. Houck Medford, a Waynesville native, who has served as the founder and CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation since its inception.

Ward has been serving chief operating officer. Medford will continue to serve as a consultant to the Foundation.

Bob Shepherd, chairman of the board of trustees, praised Medford’s vision and dedication to preserving the beauty and culture of the nation's most visited national parks. The parkway extends 469 miles through 29 counties in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Our board is unanimous in expressing deep appreciation for Houck’s and K.B’s (his wife) perseverance over the years in creating and growing our foundation so that citizens and organizations can have a tax deductible conduit through which they can contribute in a meaningful way to enhancing the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Shepherd said.

A 35-acre tract of forested land next to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Haywood-Jackson countyline in Balsam has been protected thanks to work of the Conservation Trust of North Carolina and the help of private donors and land conservation champions, Fred and Alice Stanback.

Ownership of the tract will be transferred to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Mount Lyn Lowry is known for the lighted cross that can be seen at night when driving through Balsam on U.S. 23-74. The tract is near Waterrock Knob around milepost 450 and is highly visible when traveling that section of the Parkway.

“The Mount Lyn Lowry property is small in size, but large in importance to the region’s wildlife habitat and spectacular natural beauty,” said Reid Wilson, director of the Conservation Trust.

Part of Mount Lyn Lowry remains in private hands and is dotted with homes.

In addition to bordering the Parkway, the tract is directly across from The Nature Conservancy’s 1,700-acre Plott Balsams Preserve, which links Waterrock Knob and Sylva’s Pinnacle Park.

Funds for the $200,000 bargain purchase of the tract were provided by Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury. The property was brought to Conservation Trust attention by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee.

Map of tract and photos can be downloaded at ctnc.smugmug.com/News/Richland-Creek-Headwaters.

Summertime blues

Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do cause there ain’t enough time for all the summertime blues. And by blues I mean all those wonderful summer wildflowers that run the gamut from lavender to blue to violet and purple.

Joe-pye, Eupatorium maculatum, is raising his regal pale purple head along road shoulders, in fields and from almost any conceivable opening now. This large aster may grow to a height of 15 feet and the flowering inflorescence can be more than a foot high and a foot across. In summers past, I’ve seen beautiful stands of Joe-pye intermingled with the rich purple New York ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis, in the open area at the intersection of Raccoon Road and U.S. 276.

Tall bellflower, Campanula americana, is another robust blue wildflower blooming now. The beautiful blue flower is an inch or so across and the protruding style turns up sharply at the end. It is pretty widespread across Western North Carolina and can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway around the Waynesville Overlook.

The Parkway is a great place for summertime blues. Heintooga Spur Road and the Flat Creek Trail from Heintooga Picnic area offer a wide variety of summer wildflowers. Some of the blues to see there include obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, which can be found along Heintooga Road. Obedient plant got its name because if you take your finger and gently push the corolla to one side or the other it will, obediently, remain in its new position.

Stiff gentian, Gentianella quinquefolia, a small purple wildflower with a closed corolla may also be found along Heintooga Road as well as numerous places along the Parkway, especially the road shoulders around Richland Balsam.

An especially striking summertime blue is monkshood, Aconitum uncinatum. The plant can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and the blue to purplish-blue, rounded, hood-shaped flowers are clustered at the end of the stem. One of the most reliable places I know of to fine monkshood is along the Flat Creek Trail.

I have also found turtlehead, Chelone lyonii, along Flat Creek Trail. Turtlehead also has a somewhat closed lavender-purple corolla. I think these closed corollas invite bees and other pollinators to crawl in and roll around, insuring they will collect lots of pollen. Devils Courthouse trail is another good place for turtlehead.

And as long as we are talking hoods and heads it may be a good time to mention skullcap, Scutellaria incana. Skullcap grows to about three feet tall. It has square stems and opposite leaves. The lavender to purplish-blue flowers are clustered in racemes at the end of the stem. The upper part of the corolla is hood-like while the lower lip is larger and wider and there is a conspicuous patch of white near the throat of the flower. It is common along the shoulder of the Parkway.

It’s not spring, but it’s clearly not too late for a wildflower pilgrimage. In fact the wildflower show in Western North Carolina is far from over. Grab a hand lens and a field guide and get outside and revel in the summertime blues.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center between Balsam and Maggie Valley.

The festivities, called “Blue Ridge Parkway: 75 Years of Heritage and Communities” will have a variety of free, ongoing craft demonstrations throughout the day as entertainment.

The entertainment lineup includes Cherokee Dancers at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., Old Time Appalachian Music by the Bean Town Boys at 11 a.m., Ammon sisters storytelling at noon and the Francis Family Bluegrass band at 2 p.m.

Demonstrations will include potters, blacksmith, woodcarvers, quilting and yarn spinning. David Brewin will have Nannie the Plott Hound on display and will talk about the famed state dog bred for hunting bears.

Food will be available for purchase from Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro.

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