by Karen Chávez

Asheville Citizen-Times

November 2, 2011

ASHEVILLE — Calling for an end to noise pollution, widening the parkway to create bicycle lanes and keeping access open to a panoramic view at Craggy Gardens were some of the concerns visitors voiced Wednesday afternoon at the Folk Art Center.

It was the first of four meetings being held by parkway managers to introduce visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s first General Management Plan in the park’s 75-year history.

The plan outlines three alternatives, including Alternative A, or the “no action” plan, which describes the way the parkway is currently managed. Alternative B, the parkway’s “preferred alternative,” emphasizes the original parkway design and traditional driving experience. Under Alternative C, parkway management would be more integrated with the larger regions’ resources and economy.

Alternative C would be the most expensive to implement, calling for an annual operating budget of nearly $22.7 million. Alternative B calls for a $21 million operating budget. The current budget is $16.7 million.

The public can comment by mail or online by Dec. 16.

Ted Rueter, who recently moved to Asheville with his fiancee from Burlington, Vt., is a political science professor who heads up the national nonprofit Noise Free America.

“We were looking for a place to live and we read that Asheville is the happiest place in the country, so what better place to live?” Rueter said.

But one thing making Rueter unhappy so far is what he considers excess noise on the parkway, specifically from motorcycles with exhaust systems altered to produce a loud rumbling.

“What upsets me about motorcycle noise is that it’s flat out illegal, and I don’t think that’s well known,” Rueter said. “When you hear a noisy motorcycle, it is a violation of federal law. People in North Carolina are concerned about tourism, but loud motorcycles don’t make a positive impact on tourism. It decreases the quality of life and it’s not good for tourism.”

Joseph Gantt, of Bent Creek, also expressed concern over excess noise. An avid birder and nature enthusiast, Gantt said he spent between four and eight hours every day for a month earlier this fall at the Mills River Valley Overlook between Asheville and Mount Pisgah, watching the hawk migration.

“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,” Gantt said. “It’s a simple thing — noise is noise and people don’t like it.”

Parkway Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett said the federal noise act only applies to motorcycle manufacturers, prohibiting them from removing or modifying exhaust systems for the purpose of making noise, so it is difficult to enforce after a motorcycle is purchased and on the road.

Stinnet also said the National Park Service law requires that noise not exceed 60 decibels at 50 feet.

“To measure the sound on something as it’s driving by, without getting background noise, it’s unenforceable,” he said.

But he said that comments such as those on Wednesday help with crafting integrative plans with states and surrounding municipalities. He said motorcycle noise, however, is not specifically addressed in the draft General Management Plan.

Another interest at Wednesday’s meeting was in protecting “precious” places, while keeping them open to the public. Tom Taylor, of Asheville who used to work for the Eastern National concession in the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, said he hopes that the proposed plan to close the trail to Craggy Pinnacle can be avoided.

“To get rid of that trail, to me, would be really sad. It’s one of the gems of the parkway,” said Taylor of the planned closure, intended to protect the area’s endangered plants.

“I’d keep it open. If you educate people about the sensitive nature of the trail, they would respect it. I never came across anyone who didn’t think it was the most beautiful place in the world.”