ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Yesterday a special celebration was held at America’s most visited unit of the National Park System—the Blue Ridge Parkway—to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. With funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), more than 5,300 acres along the Parkway and much of the spectacular views from Waterrock Knob are now permanently protected.
At 6,292 feet, Waterrock Knob is the highest peak in the rugged Plott Balsam Mountains and a major scenic Parkway destination near Waynesville, Sylva and Cherokee. The creation of the new Waterrock Knob Park, through collaborative efforts led by The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service with significant donations from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) protects a vast landscape of rare Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests visible from the visitor center and the summit of Waterrock Knob.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was carefully designed to balance the natural and scenic features of the southern Appalachian Mountain region with outdoor recreation opportunities at regular intervals. “The permanent protection of the land at Waterrock Knob is the realization of the vision crafted in the 1930s by Parkway designers; fulfilled now some 80 years later by committed individuals and organizations,” said Mark Woods, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. “On the occasion of the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary, it is most fitting that we celebrate this conservation achievement, and look to this work as a model in insuring a strong future for public lands across our country.”
This substantial effort was made possible with funding from the LWCF—a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties, not taxpayer dollars—which leveraged significant private funding from Fred and Alice Stanback, Brad and Shelli Stanback and other private supporters who helped purchase lands being donated to the National Park Service by The Conservation Fund, CTNC, TNC and SAHC. LWCF is annually funded by the U.S. Congress, including North Carolina’s U.S. delegation representing Haywood and Jackson Counties: U.S. Senator Richard Burr, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and U.S. Representative Mark Meadows.
“The Blue Ridge National Parkway showcases some of North Carolina’s most beautiful natural treasures,” said Senator Burr. “The addition of Waterrock Knob, made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is an incredible gift to future generations. I will keep fighting for LWCF because it allows us to protect and conserve North Carolina’s most beautiful places.”
“For decades, constituents in my district and others around the country have been able to benefit from the work of National Park Service, including the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Representative Meadows. “I want to thank those involved with the Land and Water Conservation Funding program for their leadership in preserving the Blue Ridge Parkway and congratulate the NPS on their 100-year anniversary.”
R. Michael Leonard, Chairman of The Conservation Fund and ninth generation North Carolinian, stressed the historic significance of this effort and the importance of the LWCF in preserving the rich landscapes of the Southern Appalachians and sustaining a vibrant recreational heritage in Western North Carolina. “LWCF has been critical to conserving the invaluable natural heritage of North Carolina for decades, and now it has leveraged private donations to enable the creation of a 5,000-acre protected pearl along 6,000-foot-high ridges where our beloved Blue Ridge Parkway crosses Waterrock Knob,” said Leonard.
“In the 1950s, generous North Carolina families worked with the National Park Service to create Moses Cone Park and Julian Price Park along the Parkway near Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock,” added Leonard. “Sixty years later, other generations of generous North Carolinians, like Fred and Alice Stanback and Brad and Shelli Stanback, are continuing the tradition of Moses Cone and Julian Price and are helping the Parkway mark the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service by protecting nearly eight square miles of spectacular and exceptional spruce-fir hardwood forests.”
“In addition to provide a dramatic backdrop for the Blue Ridge Parkway, this land has an amazing natural heritage,” said Katherine Skinner, executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s North Carolina Chapter. “It is home to 10 rare plant species and the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel that is only found in the Southern Appalachians.”
This conservation milestone on the Parkway will allow the National Park Service to greatly expand recreational opportunities and high-elevation hiking trails, creating a new travel and tourist destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It will also help secure the headwaters of Campbell Creek, which supplies the drinking water for the town of Maggie Valley.
“We are thrilled to donate land to the National Park Service that will enhance the recreational opportunities available near Waterrock Knob, including future trails for hiking,” said Carl Silverstein, Executive Director of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. “Through the tremendous leveraging of private funding by the federal LWCF—and the strong leadership of U.S. Senator Burr, U.S. Senator Tillis and U.S. Representative Meadows to reauthorize and fund this program—we are able to enhance the visitor experience at America’s most visited National Park unit with this donation of land.”
More than 15 million people visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2015, resulting in a $952 million economic boost to the neighboring communities and supporting more than 15,000 jobs.
“There’s a reason the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park Service—the spectacular views,” said Reid Wilson, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. “The protection of more than 5,000 acres at Waterrock Knob guarantees that these vistas will be as awe-inspiring 100 years from now as they are today.”
SOURCE: National Park Service press release