Blue Ridge Parkway roads and trails swell to 15 million visitors in 2019, budget shrinks

Nancy Midgette, in her volunteer role as a “Craggy Rover,” acting as a helping arm to the Blue Ridge Parkway rangers at Craggy Gardens, learned she can talk for four hours straight.

That’s about how long she spent talking to visitors on her four-hour shifts last summer at Craggy Pinnacle, just north of Asheville, pointing out the mountaintop names in the distance from the 360-degree vantage point, telling them where the closest bathrooms and hotels are, and explaining why they shouldn’t step over the rock walls that have signs saying not to step over the rock walls.

And that’s just a fraction of the nearly 15 million people who visited the parkway in 2019, a 2% increase from the year before, making the parkway the second most visited of all 419 units in the National Park Service.

But with increasing visitors means increasing reliance on people like Midgette who volunteer their time as extensions of the ranger staff. The budget for the National Park Service, which is a division of the Department of the Interior, has continued to decline for years.

In President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, he cuts the NPS budget by nearly 18%, from $3.2 billion to $2.8 billion. The parkway’s budget, despite its growing visitation, has remained relatively flat for the past decade. But the request in the FY 2021 budget is for $16 million, $1 million less than last fiscal year.

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