Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway nation's busiest

The Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, was the National Park Service's busiest unit with over 16 million visitors in 2009. Known as "America's Favorite Drive," the parkway begins on Afton Mountain and continues southward 469 miles (220 in Virginia) to the Great Smoky Mountains. Going north from Afton is 105 miles of the Shenandoah National Park. With multiple access points to both the Parkway and Skyline Drive, these treasurers are important parts of the Commonwealth's tourism industry. Both remain under deep snow which may threaten the spring opening and hence affect the gas stations, mom and pop stores, and restaurants in adjoining towns. The Park Service is working to clear roads in the most popular sections.
More than 285 million people visited America's National Parks in 2009, up about 10 million from the previous year. In spite of three weekends when entrance fees were waived, well publicized visits by the First Family to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and the release of Ken Burn's PBS special, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, our parks failed to break the all-time record set in 1987. But, the parks did well, considering the economic downturn and last year's downward trends in the tourism industry.
Perhaps Governor Bob McDonnell can loan the Park Service some snow removal equipment so they can open as the leaves begin budding out. After all, these two jewels of the Blue Ridge are vital parts of Virginia's tourism, job creation, and economy - far more important than opening a few rest areas.

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