By Nathan Ham
As the government shutdown continues on into yet another week with no end in sight, many of the national parks are suffering. With either no staff or very limited staff on hand, parks all across the country are dealing with trash piles, broken bathrooms and areas being destroyed by illegal off-road driving.
Here in the High Country, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been able to avoid situations like that for the most part. The FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway chapters are hoping to be able to bring out more volunteers and build interest in the what the group does while being prepared to help clean up areas as needed when the shutdown ends.
Ken and Julie Carpenter are the co-chairs of the High Country Chapter of the FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ken said that the National Park Service has asked that the organization avoid going out to clear debris or clean up trash on the parkway until the shutdown is over.
“Since everybody is on furlough, they’re nervous about people going out and doing a lot of work so they’re asking us to stand down as well,” Ken said.
FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway has had a lot of people wanting to volunteer their time to and ways to help out. Once the shutdown is over there will be many ways for volunteers to help clean up the Parkway. The recent weather alone caused road closures due to debris and downed trees. This is in addition to year-round assistance FRIENDS offers to keep the Parkway clean.
“We’ll be ready to support them fully when they get back and whatever priorities they come up with and what they see around the park, especially in our chapter area, we’ll try to get as much volunteer help over as we can,” said Ken.
Julie has seen first-hand the positive impact that people have been able to have on the parkway. She says her and her husband have been out on the parkway two or three times since the shutdown started.
“We ride our horses at Moses Cone. When we’ve been riding our horses, there are a lot of people that are picking up trash and moving stuff off the trail. The general public seems to take ownership too whether or not they are volunteers,” said Julie. “That speaks a lot to how much the local people and visitors are just really taking care of things. They really love the park.”
Julie was also complimentary to the National Parks Service with how much debris and cleanup had been done after the big winter storm that hit the High Country in December.
“There was so much tree damage and I don’t know if the work that was done by the park service to abate the problem on the trails was prior to the furlough or after but they did a fantastic job of keeping the trails open in that location,” she said. “There was evidence of lots of work to get the huge debris out of the way and chainsaw work that all would have been done by the park service. It was amazing to us because the quantity of trees that were down was astounding. Kudos to them, we were shocked.”