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Blue Ridge Parkway’s Viaduct Turns 25 This Month

Photo by Randy Johnson

Sept. 6, 2012. The Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering marvel that bridged the final gap in the Blue Ridge Parkway, is about to turn 25. 

The elevated, S-shaped bridge officially opened Sept. 11, 1987, with a ceremonial dedication. Perched on the shoulder of Grandfather Mountain about 10 miles outside Boone, the viaduct brought completion to the 469-mile parkway across North Carolina and Virginia. 

Now a quarter-century later, the Linn Cove Viaduct has become the Blue Ridge Parkway’s quintessential image, seen on everything from car commercials to postcards to road maps from the N.C. Department of Transportation. 

The viaduct still startles motorists as it leaps away from the mountain and soars within feet of rocks and trees, all the while offering unobstructed views to the Carolina Piedmont.

“Our goal for this bridge,” said Gary Johnson, a now-retired Parkway landscape architect who worked on the 10.5-mile Grandfather Mountain section, “was to have it look like it had been there for a century – to look like it had almost grown out of the mountain.” 

The complex, 1,243-foot balcony cost $8,000 per foot. It was built with 153 segments weighing 50 tons apiece. Each was lowered out over the elongating end of the viaduct, epoxied into place, and secured with internal cables. The American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the viaduct its “Civil Engineering Achievement of Merit.”

“Looking back, we never realized how iconic this part of the Parkway would become,” Johnson said. “Sometimes things just happen when they’re ready. This part of the Parkway almost seems predestined to have turned out for the best.”

Over the years, the viaduct has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Folks park at the Linn Cove Visitor Center (Parkway Milepost 304.4) and hike the rugged half-mile Tanawha Trail for post-card views of the viaduct. There’s also a shorter, paved path that allows people to look up from beneath the high-tech bridge.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway is always a highlight of any visit to the Boone area,” says Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority. “And we expect the September 11th birthday of the Grandfather Mountain section to attract even more visitors to one of the very best parts of the Parkway.”

For more info on this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, along with info about trails that provide the best views of the viaduct, visit: www.ExploreBooneArea.com.