Category Archives: Blue Ridge Parkway

Who’s taking care of our national parks?

It’s not news that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is still the most visited park in the nation.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed a record number of visitors in 2017, according to park officials. 11,338,894 people visited the park in 2017, a 0.2% increase over 2016.

The Blue Ridge Parkway had more than 16 million visits last year. Not surprisingly, these parks require maintenance and the maintenance backlog is dreadful. But a bill introduced in Congress last year would create a continuous funding stream for national parks. Like when you put away money to fix the roof or paint the house in the future, this fund would provide money for fixing our parks. Here’s the bill.

Still, as quoted in the Smoky Mountain News, my representative, U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows, says that “he doesn’t anticipate this particular bill seeing any serious consideration in Congress”. If our own congressional representative isn’t going to push for an issue which is of such economic importance to Western North Carolina, who is?

I’m off on a trip to two of the most out-of-the way places on earth. So this is my last blog for a while.

Keep on hiking!

A Vision for Waterrock Knob on the Parkway

John Manuel on the MST

What is your vision for Waterrock Knob, a high point and small park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, MP 451.2?

For years, Carolina Mountain Club worked on extending the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on both sides of Waterrock Knob. Finally in June, 2016, we had a big celebration with several state and federal dignitaries. And CMC went on to work on other sections of trail.

Now the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the help of several conservancies, has been able to protect more land around the original knob.  What does the public want to do with it? So National Park Service and Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation held an open house in Waynesville to find out.

JD Lee, Superintendent of BLRI

When I walked in, I was greeted by a Foundation employee who asked me to sign in and gave me a strip of six “sticky” dots.

“Walk around the room and place the dots where you think the Waterrock Knob area should focus on.”

The Folkmoot Friendship Center, where the event was held, was decorated with large posters displaying different themes of the Waterrock Knob vision: recreation, preservation, heritage, and tourist and economic development.

The first theme I encountered was recreation. In large print, it said:

Engage with South Beyond 6000 Peak Bagging Program to Understand the Current Program.

Wow! That’s Carolina Mountain Club’s program. The smaller print said:

Work with Carolina Mountain Club to determine how the program should be promoted in the Waterrock Knob region that has several 6000 foot+ elevation peaks.

A little above, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail was mentioned.

Consider using the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as the spine of the regional trail system that connects all communities.

One of the Recreation vision

On post-its, you could write out your vision. Here’s mine:

Build campsites about 10 to 15 miles apart from Heintooga Rd to Stone Mountain State Park on the MST – by volunteers, of course – so hikers can backpack the MST easily and legally. Now, camping is only available in a few designated campgrounds.

I met JD Lee, the incoming superintendent and asked him what his vision and his priorities are:

  • Work with stake holders, volunteers and the community. It takes a village to care for the Parkway.
  • Engage the millennial generation. Every national park employee says that.

If you missed the open house, you can still send in comments. Here’s how:

Additional comments specific to the NPS approach to large landscape collaborative management for lands at Waterrock Knob are also welcome via the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at

Waterrock Knob Park?

Big news on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Waterrock Knob has been in the news lately. On National Trails Day, Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail opened a section of the MST around the Knob.

Now the Conservation Fund has been acquiring thousands of acres around Waterrock Knob over the last few years. The Blue Ridge Parkway is planning to turn the
Knob into a park similar to what it has done at Price Park and Doughton
Park. They are having a big announcement on August 23rd and all are

WaterrockKnob steps
WaterrockKnob steps

The Conservation Fund says that “An effort to conserve more than 5,000 acres in the Plott Balsam Mountains and much of the spectacular views from Waterrock Knob will be achieved through collaborative efforts led by The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service, with significant donations from The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

This tremendous conservation success was made possible in part with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, Brad and Shelli Stanback and other private supporters.” A lot of groups had a hand in this.

But an interview with  Bill Holman, NC state director of The Conservation Fund, done a couple of years ago by Smoky Mountain News, hints at more than picnic tables and even camping spots.

What if the NC Wildlife Commission managed the land as open meadow? Could it attract elk?

Elk in the Smokies
Elk in the Smokies

Elk are getting crowded in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and could move into Waterrock Knob Park, given the right circumstances.

Wow! That might be the only place where MST hikers might see elk in their natural habitat!

A lot to think about! In the meantime, plan to go to Waterrock Knob on August 23 and ask questions.

Here’s the formal invitation. Waterrock Knob 8-23-16 Invitation