New Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods visited West Jefferson on Tuesday, May 20 to talk about the historic highway, as well as the importance of cooperation between the Parkway’s officials and nearby communities.
Blue Ridge Parkway winds through 29 counties, including Ashe, in North Carolina and Virginia.
“This is a community that values the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Woods said to a group of community leaders at the West Jefferson Town Hall. “Having neighbors that care about the park is critically important.”
Woods, a native of South Carolina, has served as Superintendent of the Parkway for eight months and had previously served as Superintendent of Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
“My focus and priority has been to be really out of the headquarters and out on the parkway meeting with our staff, volunteers and communities up and down the Parkway,” he said. “I think it’s really important to meet you all here firsthand to see what you love, what you value and what you would like to see different.”
Other changes brought to the Blue Ridge Parkway include the hiring of Leesa Brandon, who will serve as the public information officer for the Parkway.
“We’ve recently made a couple of organizational changes in our staffing,” he said. “One, the Parkway has not had a public information officer for at least 10 years… Leesa has been heading up volunteers and community relations. She is now the official point of contact for our public information.”
Brandon said that the Blue Ridge Parkway is officially open in its entirety, from Waynesville, Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Following the meeting, Woods spoke about Doughton Park and plans he has for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Doughton Park, located in Alleghany County, had shut down the concessionary areas in 2010 and last year, had the picnic areas and campground closed.
“This year, we’re opening (the picnic areas and campground), back up,” he said. “They are for the public to use. The concession areas will not be yet, we still have to determine what we’ve got to do in terms of making them usable again.”
When asked about his priorities as superintendent, Woods said his top priority is maintenance of the Parkway.
“We have to really maintain the facilities and assets we have at the highest level we possibly can,” he said. “There are limitations to what we can do, but having the facilities open and accessible to the public is critical I think.”
Woods said when he took over, one-third of the Parkway’s facilities were closed, and he said this year there was only one area that would be completely closed. That area is Crabtree Falls in Yancey County.
Beyond maintaining the Parkway, officials are wanting to focus on the nearby communities which benefit from the Parkway coming through their counties.
“We are working with the local communities to try and garner support for the Parkway,” Woods said. “Sometimes people don’t understand what the issues we are dealing with are and we don’t understand what the local issues are.”
In addition, Woods talked about the incliment weather causing road closures along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the winter. He said the Blue Ridge Parkway website, www.blueridgeparkway.org, provides real-time updates on road closures for the entire road.
“We leave it open as long as we can unless there is inclement weather which effects an area, we then close that section,” he said. “You may have different sections of the roadway closed at different times of the winter, so it really is weather dependent.”
Woods said communication between the concessionaires in the area and the Parkway has been beneficial.
“I think there’s a good synergy there,” he said.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.