March 26, 2013. FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway (FRIENDS) has launched a two-year 25th anniversary celebration commemorating the volunteer-driven organization’s founding in North Carolina in 1988 and in Virginia the following year.
“We believe the best way to celebrate a quarter century of service to the Blue Ridge Parkway is with a renewed commitment to America’s most visited park,” said Susan J. Mills, PhD, executive director of FRIENDS. “We also believe in aiming high and, over the next two years, increase membership and service hours by 25 percent.”
According to recent Parkway data, approximately one-third of the Park’s maintenance positions are unfilled and likely to remain so since the government’s sequestration cuts have gone into effect. “Other national parks can charge an admission fee,” Mills pointed out. “That’s not an option for the Blue Ridge Parkway. So we need to enlist more volunteers to help maintain this treasure that is such an integral part of life in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.”
FRIENDS is the only volunteer-driven organization focused on preserving, protecting and enhancing the Parkway. Currently 66 percent of the Park’s trails and overlooks have been adopted by volunteers. Over the next two years, FRIENDS hopes to reach 100 percent.
“Because the Parkway is our nation’s most visited park, it takes a lot of wear and tear. Our volunteers give their time, talent and money to care for the Park. We just need more of them,” said Board Chair Ken Randolph. He noted that for every dollar contributed to FRIENDS, the organization is able to generate four dollars in volunteer time and resources.
In recent years FRIENDS has instituted an Alternative Break Program with colleges and universities. This year FRIENDS’ members will host students from Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Georgetown Universities. “The students love it,” Randolph said. “They like being outdoors, learning what it takes to maintain the Park and learning about the rich local arts and crafts culture that surrounds it.”
A study conducted by North Carolina State University in 2010 estimated that the Parkway contributes $2.3 billion dollars in economic impact to the surrounding communities. “There are many reasons why the Parkway needs our protection and support,” Randolph said. “Aside from its sheer beauty and precious ecosystem, this Park brings people from all of the country to the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. These visitors support small businesses by staying in local accommodations, eating at local restaurants, and purchasing goods and services. But they will only come if the Parkway is well cared for. That’s why the work of FRIENDS is so important.”
To open the season annually the Blue Ridge Parkway needs volunteers to help with campground clean ups. The High Country Chapter and the Appalachian State University Chapter of FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway will be cleaning up the Julian Price Memorial Park Campground area in April and May. Volunteer jobs include picking up fallen branches, leveling tent pads, sweeping out parking slips, raking leaves, removing hazardous trees, and clearing and refurbishing footpaths and steps. In honor of Earth Day, the Appalachian State University Chapter will conduct a Parkway Sweep, a general clean up of the Parkway between Mileposts 275-3120. The Sweep will involve cleaning up debris at overlooks and other pull-offs along the Parkway. All ages are welcome!
FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the only volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organization solely dedicated to protecting, preserving, enhancing and celebrating the nation’s most visited national park. Its more than 9,000 members work to ensure the Park’s future through stewardship and fundraising activities that include individual and corporate memberships, corporate sponsorships, volunteer service projects, and educational programs. To learn more about FRIENDS and how to get involved, go to www.BlueRidgeFriends.org or call us at 800-228-PARK (7275).