80 Years Ago, Construction Began on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The project began when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the newly constructed Skyline Drive in Virginia in 1933. Then U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia suggested to the president the road should be extended to connect with the recently established Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Roosevelt convened the governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee and asked that a planning team be created. On November 24, 1933, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes approved this “park-to-park” highway as a public works project.

Construction began September 11, 1935, near Cumberland Knob, North Carolina. Most of the construction was done by private contractors, but a variety of New Deal public works programs were also employed, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Emergency Relief Administration (ERA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). When World War II began, approximately 170 miles were open to travel and another 160 miles were under construction. By the early 1950s, only half of the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed.

The National Park Service launched its ten-year development program called Mission 66, an accelerated effort to move construction ahead with a goal of the Parkway’s completion by 1966. This initiative was very successful, finishing all of the Parkway’s construction with the exception of 7.7 miles at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Grandfather owner, Hugh Morton, objected to the proposed construction at Grandfather, citing the fragility of the mountain’s ecology.

After years of negotiating, the revolutionary Linn Cove Viaduct – which had been constructed from the top down to protect the mountain’s terrain – opened in 1987, completing the Blue Ridge Parkway’s continuous 469-mile route.

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