Asheville Citizen-Times

November 8, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway officials asked residents of the Asheville area what changes they would most like to see. The matter most cited was one over which they have little control.

The parkway, the most-visited unit in the National Park Service system, is 75 years old but has never had a comprehensive management plan. The session at the Folk Art Center was the first of four seeking public comment. The biggest single issue turned out to be not facilities or views but noise, specifically from motorcycles.

“People in North Carolina are concerned about tourism, but loud motorcycles don’t make a positive impact on tourism,” said Ted Rueter, a political science professor who heads Noise Free America.

“I talked with people from all over the United States and the world, and not one person had anything positive to say about the motorcycle noise,” said Joseph Gantt, of Bent Creek, an avid birder. “Noise is noise, and people don’t like it.”

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot the Park Service can do, according to Steve Stinnett, chief ranger on the parkway. Stinnett said noise is limited by law to not over 60 decibels at 50 feet, but, “To measure the sound on something as it’s driving by, without getting background noise, it’s unenforceable.” The best hope probably lies with motorcycle groups educating their members to be considerate.

One thing the Park Service can do — and will do, if Tom Taylor, of Asheville, has his way — is keep the trail to Craggy Pinnacle open. The Park Service has been considering closure because of people leaving the trail and damaging endangered plants.

“To get rid of that trail, to me, would be really sad. It’s one of the gems of the parkway,” said Taylor, who used to work in the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center. “If you educate people about the sensitive nature of the trail, they would respect it.”

Maybe greater education will work here, as Taylor suggested, but it’s a tough call given the irreplaceable nature of the assets. Another tough call will be whether to widen the parkway to allow bike lanes, as was suggested. Here, the benefits must be balanced against environmental cost.

The National Park Service has come up with three alternatives and prefers Alternative B, which strikes a middle course between doing nothing and making major changes. For instance, Alternative B “allows for moderate upgrades to campgrounds, rather than wholesale redesign.”

Alternative B will require an annual operating budget of $21 million, up from the present $16.7 million. The cost for the more expansive plan, Alternative C, would be $22.7 million.

Comments are being accepted until Dec. 16. You can go online to the National Park Service planning page, click on “plans,“ then on “Blue Ridge Parkway” and then on “open for comment,” or send a letter to Superintendent Philip A. Francis Jr., Blue Ridge Parkway, 199 Hemphill Knob Road, Asheville, NC 28803.

It’s your parkway. Make your views known, whether it be about scenic trails or noisy motorcycles.