Blue Ridge Parkway head to retire April 1

If you want to run the busiest national park unit in the country, you need to know the people who make the park tick. From the rangers to the visitors to the local business owners and the volunteers. The people who know Phil Francis, the superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway for nearly 8 years, say he has been that kind of leader.

Unlike many government bureaucrats locked up in their offices, Francis is known throughout Western North Carolina as a “people person.” Francis looks back most fondly on the relationships he has made on the parkway as he announced he will retire April 1.

He said he has met most parkway employees — from maintenance staff to interpretive rangers to biologists — along the entire 469 miles of scenic roadway that starts in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and ends at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee.

“Everything I do is a consequence of a group of people working hard,” Francis said. “When you’re in a leadership position, people decide who they’re going to follow. Their decisions are based on relationships. “If you don’t get out and visit your employees, you will have challenges. I think I’ve met, except for one or two, all 160 employees on the parkway.”

Francis has also made it a point to know the many parkway volunteers, local residents and parkway partners, getting out of the Asheville headquarters office as much as possible to meet people.

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Note: As one of those Parkway volunteers, I can personally vouch for Francis’ willingness to get out and support us. He is cordial and appreciative, and likes to brag about all that we get done. He will tell you that his job would be impossible, because of budget cuts, without the assistance of Parkway volunteers. Phil Francis will be missed.


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