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PostPosted: Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:46 pm 
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A Happy September 11 Anniversary

By D. G. Martin
September 2010

Last week on September 11 we marked two important, life-changing anniversaries.

First, of course, was the remembrance of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But there was another, happier celebration marking September 11, 1935, when the Durham (NC)-based Nello L. Teer Company began construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It would be hard to find anybody who would argue that the Parkway is anything but one of North Carolina's (and Virginia's) great treasures. More than 17 million people drive on the Parkway every year, making it the most visited unit in the National Park System.

We take the Parkway and the beautiful mountain scenery for granted. We don't even ask how did this incredible road ever get constructed.

First of all, the Depression made the Parkway possible. It was part of Roosevelt's stimulus package.

The connection to the Depression is just one of countless other compelling and instructive stories about the Parkway told by Anne Mitchell Whisnant in her book, "Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History,"

My favorite of Whisnant's stories is how North Carolina "stole" Tennessee's share of the Parkway. This story is too rich and complicated to summarize, but I will give it a try. The Parkway links the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks. Both of the two final proposed routes took the Parkway from the Virginia line to a point near Linville. The "Tennessee route," unanimously recommended by an advisory committee appointed by Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes, took the Parkway from Linville through Tennessee and down to Gatlinburg. The other proposal, ultimately approved by Ickes, takes the Parkway via Asheville to a Park entrance near Cherokee.

Why did Ickes overrule his own advisory committee? Lots of reasons: The higher elevations and dramatic scenery on the North Carolina route. The passion of Parkway boosters in Asheville, which was desperate for more tourism. A passionate, well-prepared, and eloquent state employee named R. Getty Browning, who presented North Carolina's case to people who might influence the decision.

All of these factors helped North Carolina, but the key was an inside track North Carolina had to President Roosevelt. The Raleigh News & Observer's Josephus Daniels had been Roosevelt's boss when both were part of President Woodrow Wilson's administration. They became and remained good friends. Daniels was reluctant to use his friendship to ask for favors for his home state, but he finally did ask Roosevelt to get involved. The President saw that the North Carolina route had some advantages, and gave North Carolina and Daniels the nod.

Don't feel too sorry for Tennessee. Thanks to Roosevelt, it got the TVA.

Not all the stories Whisnant tells are happy ones.

The Parkway's right of way divided small mountain farms and took some farms outright, driving families off lands their families had worked for generations.

The National Park Service's rigid limits on commercialization denied local businesses some of the anticipated benefits they hoped would come from Parkway visitors.

The Service's approach to historic preservation along the Parkway has been inconsistent. In one case, an old farmhouse was stripped of its "improvements" to reveal an original log cabin for display. Later, persuaded that the true history of the farmhouse should show it as it existed in 1930s, those stripped-away improvements were restored. The conflict between maintaining and creating beautiful scenery and presenting "true history" with all its warts might make for an impossible challenge.

Still, once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, who wants to worry about all these conflicts? Only those of us who always have to remember that many of the good things the past has left us came about only after determined effort and painful conflict.


D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Fridays at 9:30pm. (This week only, the Sunday 5 p.m. broadcast will be preempted for special programming.) For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at


"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."
Honore de Balzac

"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."

~Harry S. Truman

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