Blue Ridge Parkway
Noted for its incredible scenic beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway that stretches for roughly 469 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is part of the larger Appalachian Mountains. The Parkway connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Also known as "America's favorite drive," the Blue Ridge Parkway is maintained by the National Park Service, and in particular stretches by the United States Forest Service. It offers breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, forests, and pastoral landscapes, while featuring an abundance of hiking trails, picnic areas and campgrounds along its course.
It was Stanley Abbott, a landscape architect, who had a remarkable vision of creating a park-like environment, along with a road, and who was influenced by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York's Central Park and the grounds of Biltmore Estate that led to the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Work on the project was initiated during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration on September 11, 1935, at which time it was originally called the “Appalachian Scenic Highway.” It took more than fifty years for the scenic route to be completed, with the last last stretch of the route established around Grandfather Mountain in 1987. The Parkway was officially dedicated on September 11, 1987.
Some of the earliest inhabitants of the Blue Ridge included the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina and the Monacan, Saponi, and Tutelo Indians of western Virginia. Their history remains in the artifacts left behind and certain distinctive features in the landscape that are a testament to their former presence. The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center display exhibits that focus on the lives of these early settlers and others. Along the Parkway are also signs of the 19th-century industrial development, with the notable Mabry Mill as a representation of that period.
Blue Ridge Parkway covers a wide range of habitats along the Appalachian Mountains, and is a place of diverse and exceptional regional flora and fauna. There are over 100 species of trees such as tulip trees, and numerous flowering shrubs, like the rhododendron and flame azalea. The Parkway provides protected habitats for many forms of wildlife, including species of amphibian, fish, mammal, bird and reptile. The Peaks of Otter salamander and the Blue Ridge goldenrod are endemic to the region.
Notable finds along Blue Ridge Parkways includes Mount Mitchell- the highest mountain peak in the eastern US; New River- the oldest river in North America; Linville Gorge- the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon; and Whitewater Falls- the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. This Parkway is another gem among gems when it comes to America’s scenic landscapes.
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