Blue Ridge Parkway debate heats up

Local cycling advocates asking for comment

News broke last week that bicycles could soon be banned from the Blue Ridge Parkway. As word spread to numerous forums a debate waged on what this means for locals and cottage industry that thrives around cycling tours on the scenic road spanning from Virginia into North Carolina.

This national parkway, which is also an “All-American Road” runs 469 miles, mostly along the Blue Ridge mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Construction of this historic parkway took 52 years to complete, beginning in 1936 and even continuing throughout World War II, finally with the final stretch only laid out in 1987. It provides some truly scenic rides and offers some intense climbs and fast descends.

The parkway has been used by seven-time Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong as a training ground, and remains the single most popular road for bicyclists in the Blue Ridge area. According to the National Park Service there were 17.9 million visitors in 2005, with estimates of 20 million visitors now annually, making it a popular destination year round.

So could cycling really be banned? Well, according to a story on Blue Ridge Outdoors, it is all in the wording: Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s newly released draft management plan could limit cycling on the Parkway. The draft plan focuses exclusively on the Parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience.”

Because of the usage of “recreational driving experience,” there has been concern that bicycles could be banned. The plan says three options may be given, including “A = no change;” “B=promoting the ‘driving experience’;” or “C=partnership with local economies.”

But again, does this suggest that biking is off the table and thus off the road?

According to the Blue Ridge Parkway Journeys blog from last year, there has been since 2001 a multi-year process of developing a General Management Plan, and “a major component of this process was public comment.”

The blog adds, “what made this result interesting was that comments were split 50/50 between those that were pro cycling and those that were anti cycling. Public suggestions ranged from building a bike lane the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway to completely banning bicycles.”

Worse for bicyclists is that the study reportedly found that only about 20 percent of the length of the Parkway would be even physically practical for construction of a multi-use or bicycle trail along its length. Additionally it would cost millions of dollars, and thus no plans are in place for the proposed project.

The truth is that a bigger concern could be that Draft Plan reportedly calls for the Blue Ridge Parkway to apply for National Historic Landmark status, as a way to help manage it. The concern here would be that under this status changes and improvements would be required to undergo historic review, in turn blocking new trails, and even road maintenance or other improvements for bicyclists as a whole.

Bike Maryland, a local bicycle advocacy organization, is asking cyclists to submit written comments on the Blue Ridge Parkway Draft Management Plan by Friday, 16 December. The non-profit is asking Blue Ridge Parkway managers to:

  1. Halt the National Historic Landmark application process. The designation would make it harder to make future improvements for bicycling access, such as wider shoulders and trails.
  2. Recognize and promote cycling in the Draft Management Plan as a viable and important aspect of Parkway visitation.
  3. Work with cyclists, the surrounding communities, and the general public to meet the needs of today’s changing world.

Comments can be submitted electronically via the National Park System’s planning, environment and public comment website.

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