from the Asheville Citizen-Times

Behind closed parkway gates, peaceful landscapes reward one caretaker

by James Jones, Guest columnist

published February 12, 2007 12:15 am

 

Being a maintenance worker for the Blue Ridge Parkway is exciting and challenging, especially during the summer months when visitors are cruising the famous motor road. Completing projects and performing routine maintenance amidst traffic can be especially difficult.

But when the snow gates are closed and the public has no access by vehicle, what goes on ďbehind closed gatesĒ?

Hardly anything can compare to the solitude and beauty of the parkway when the road is closed due to inclement weather and other forces of nature such as rockslides and fallen trees. I especially enjoy taking the snowplow up to Mount Mitchell after snow has blanketed the area.

The white mountaintops contrasting with a deep blue sky is striking. Craggy Gardens presents a spectacular showcase of icicles shimmering in the sunlight. The rime ice glitters like tiny crystals as it clings to the branches of red spruce and balsam firs at Balsam Gap Overlook.

Snow drifts sometimes reach several feet deep just past Craggy Pinnacle tunnel, and who can forget the wall of snow shooting off the mountain as the plow blunders along Bullhead Mountain?

Occasionally, I notice fresh tracks of a bobcat that has meandered along a guardrail, or the tracks of a black bear that has ventured across the road. On one occasion, I observed two young bobcats playing in the road. While the beauty is serene, the solitude and tranquility cannot be matched in our modern world. The absence of visitors makes me feel as if the parkway is my personal playground and sometimes, when the wind is calm, the silence can be deafening.

When thereís no snow to plow, we work on other tasks along the parkway to make it safer when it reopens. Hazardous trees along the roadway are felled and removed. Vistas and tunnel openings are cleared of vegetation. Drainage culverts and drop inlets are cleared of leaves and other debris. Signage along the parkway gets replaced or refurbished. Road shoulders are repaired. We mow the embankments to allow a new generation of wildflowers to return in the spring. The list goes on and on. Itís a full-time job and keeps us busy, but itís rewarding to examine what we achieve each day.

So the next time youíre out on the parkway and the gate is closed, donít become discouraged. Take a hike or ride a bike and relish the magnificent beauty and solitude it has to offer. The parkway takes on a whole new look when youíre on foot or riding a bicycle. Stop and sit a while and notice the soothing sounds of nature. I promise it will be worth your while. Happy Travels!

This is the opinion of James Jones, who has worked for the maintenance division of the Blue Ridge Parkway for the past five years. E-mail him at James_M_Jones@nps.gov.