The Blue Ridge Parkway Nobody Knows
The Blue Ridge Parkway, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, has more annual visitors than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined.
What few of those visitors may realize as they travel the 469-mile-long highway is that those natural landscapes and peaceful vistas conceal a fascinating and complicated history.
For those who want the true story author and historian Anne Mitchell Whisnant will present "Super-Scenic Motorway: The Blue Ridge Parkway Nobody Knows" at Southern Pines Public Library on Sunday, Jan. 24, from 3 to 4 p.m. Her program is a part of the Explorations: A Forum for Adults series. The presentation is made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a nonprofit foundation and a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Whisnant is the author of "Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History," published in 2006 by UNC Press. Her love of the North Carolina mountains was fostered at an early age, after spending seven summers at Lake Junaluska near Waynesville. In 1991, as a graduate student, she began researching the Blue Ridge Parkway's development, and what she discovered surprised her.
"The Scenic," as the locals referred to the Parkway, began as a Depression-era public works project, with landscape architects plotting nearly every tree and shrub planted along the roadside. But it quickly became a political bone of contention between North Carolina's and Virginia's state highway departments, with disgruntled landowners, resort developers and a band of Eastern Cherokees thrown into the mix. This contradicted the more romantic view that the Parkway was a boost to tourism and a "godsend for the needy."
"When I started, I believed many of the myths," Whisnant says. "The key for me was to have a direct encounter with the historical documents - to let the voices of the past speak to me."
One of those voices belonged to the late Hugh Morton, the photographer and nature conservationist who developed Grandfather Mountain. Whisnant maintains that one of the highlights of the research process was "being driven up the steep and curvy Grandfather Mountain road in a monsoon rain by the then-83-year-old Morton, who insisted on stopping the car to get out and take photographs of the cascading water."
Whisnant still drives the parkway today, and enjoys camping and hiking there with her husband and two sons. Now, however, she sees the history behind the scenery and encourages others to do the same.
"A history that denies how hard-won this or any of our national parks were in the face of many competing demands and private interests is a history that doesn't serve us well going forward," she says.
Whisnant's presentation is intended to tie in with the Community Read of the novel "Serena," currently being promoted by Moore County Area Libraries (MCAL). Citizens are being encouraged to read the book and to take part in discussions, lectures and other events. "Serena," by Ron Rash, is set in a lumber camp in the mountains of North Carolina in >1929. Information and a schedule of events for the Community Read may be found athttp://moorecommunityread.pbworks.com.
For more information on upcoming programs at Southern Pines Public Library, call (910) 692-8235 or visit the Web site www.sppl.net.
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