PEOPLE OF THE BLUE RIDGE:
A SOCIO-CULTURAL ASSESSMENT OF INHOLDERS
ALONG THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY

by Kent Anderson

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER TWO: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
CHAPTER THREE: THE PEOPLE OF THE BLUE RIDGE
CHAPTER FOUR: THE GROUNDHOG MOUNTAIN INCIDENT
CHAPTER FIVE: CONCLUSIONS
ENDNOTES
SOURCES
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION INDEX

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This report was funded independently by a grant from the Institute for Human Rights Research located in San Antonio, Texas. All opinions expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who assisted me in the preparation of this study, namely the staffs of various Congressional, State, and local offices as well as officials from the National Park Service. Most of all, however, this study could not have been possible without the generous cooperation of the kind people of the Blue Ridge mountains. I have received so much more from them than I shall ever be able to return.

CHAPTER ONE:
INTRODUCTION

This is a report about people; people who live near or along the Blue Ridge Parkway National Park. The General Accounting Office, in a December 1979 report, stated that, in general, the Federal efforts to acquire lands for such areas as national parks should be reassessed to include alternatives to the most common method of acquisition, direct fee purchase. The GAO also recommended that each individual park or area carefully study the impact of its acquisition policy on the local landowners, or inholders. This study attempts to discover same of that impact with specific reference to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The GAO report also devoted a few pages to the Parkway, but, obviously, due to its effort to cover a great many parks and recreational areas, could not investigate aspects of life along this scenic motorway. It is interesting to note that the GAO field researchers for the section on the Blue Ridge Parkway did not talk to any inholders. This study attempts to fill that void and, in a sense, might be considered as a supplement to the GAO report.

A few comments are necessary regarding terms and sources. In this report the term "inholder" will be used in the broad sense (not in the more narrow definition of the National Park Service), that is, a property owner whose land adjoins, or is significantly affected by government park land. Most of the field research conducted in this report was confined to the Southwestern Virginia counties of Carroll and Patrick although a few inholders in other counties were interviewed. In the section on Sources a few people listed will not appear in specific endnotes following each chapter. The knowledge gained from such sources was of a general nature.

To reiterate; this report will focus on people; not parcels of land and land law, not trees and rivers, not mountains and trails, but people and how they have been affected by the land acquisition policies of the National Park Service and, perhaps more importantly, their perceptions and feelings as to how land acquisition has affected their cultural heritage, their future, and their quality of life on their land.1

CHAPTER TWO:
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY

The scenic motorway which come to be known as the Blue Ridge Parkway was a product of the Public Works Administration, a large component of the New Deal's efforts to provide jobs to the needy unemployed of the Great Depression by the construction of large public works projects. In one sense, then, the Blue Ridge Parkway was a "make-work" project designed to employ a projected 10,000 construction workers for at least two years.1

In another sense, the demand for a paved motorway and better access through the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as for preservation of the area for scenic enjoyment of tourists had been around for decades. The Blue Ridge Mountain area was, in many ways, the "last frontier" in the continental United States. There was virtually no electricity in the area until after World War II. Most of the people of the Blue Ridge in the 1930's had rarely seen a telephone or a radio. In addition to road conditions, sanitary and educational facilities were abysmal. In the face of such poverty, what made the Blue Ridge Mountains the "last frontier" was the people not the land; a people fiercely proud and independent; a people so isolated that the appearance of the land acquisition officers prior to the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway was the first governmental contact for most of the descendants of the Scotch-Irish settlers who first came to the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their mountain heritage had been maintained literally untouched by the modernization which had swept through the rest of the nation.2

One of the best descriptions of the people of the Blue Ridge comes from Richard C. Davids' excellent history, The Man Who Moved A Mountain:

A young man and his woman could start life with little more than a skillet and a hoe. They would go up to the mountain where the trees were so big there was no underbrush and where folks said you couldn't hear a cowbell for the birds a-singin'. Together the young couple would settle in a fern-shadowed hollow where water was close by, deaden the trees by cutting off a ring of bark, then hoe dawn kernels of corn between. No need to plow the soil, it was that loose and mellow. After harvest they had the corn ground at the flutter mill, and in the embers of the fireplace they baked it into johnny ashcake 3

Here, then, were a people with an intense relationship with their land and mountains when the first shovelful of earth was lifted out of the Blue Ridge Mountains in September 1935 to begin the building of the Parkway. 4

Of special interest to this report is how the land was acquired for the Blue Ridge Parkway, particularly within the state of Virginia. The Parkway was to be a joint cooperative effort between the Federal government and each-affected state with the former funding 90% of the project. Land acquisition, however, was left primarily to the states. Virginia used the methods of simple fee acquisition, condemnation, and the less-than-fee acquisition process known as scenic easements, a term which will be discussed in greater detail later. More important for the moment was the fact that, in their haste to acquire land for the Parkway, the Virginia state land acquisition officers made a false promise to the people of the Blue Ridge Mountains. "They promised that they would get us out of the mud," was how one local official described it. Since the new motorway was to be the first lengthy paved road in the area, many residents willingly sold their land with the assurance that the Parkway would be a farm-to-market access road for local commercial and agricultural uses as well as for the primary recreational use. All of these promises made by the land officials were verbal. A written document would not have been highly regarded to the largely unlettered mountain people, but a man's word counted for something. During the first year of the Parkway's operation farmers were able to drive their trucks freely along the new highway to market. During the second year a special permit was required. By the fourth year all commercial traffic was prohibited from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The newly improved road promised the farmers and citizens of the mountains had been a very short-lived benefit, indeed. There is little documentation on the "farm-to-market" promise about the Parkway made during the land acquisition process in the mid-1930's. All that one has are the statements of people who were there at the time. This apparent deceit by several Virginia officials not only weakened the anticipated economic revival, but it had a profound socio-psychological effect on the communities of the mountains. It sowed a deep seed of mistrust of government into a people who initially welcomed the Parkway; a mistrust which soon was transferred to the National Park Service.5

By a 1936 Act of Congress the administration and maintenance of the Blue Ridge Parkway was turned over to the National Park Service within the Department of Interior. This signified no immediate change in top personnel since the Public Works Administrator, Harold L. Ickes, was also the Interior Secretary. The next few years saw the states of Virginia and North Carolina acquire additional thousands of acres of land necessary for the approximate 200 foot-wide swath of highway under construction. The states then deeded over their lands to the Federal government. Many private and public road accesses were granted until July, 1938 when Secretary Ickes ordered the Governors of the respective states not to allow any further accesses to be built to the Parkway. The great majority of today's private road crossings on the Parkway were established and reserved for the local population prior to that order. 6

The Blue Ridge Parkway was an oddity within the National Park Service. Its elongated path allowed for few National Park camping facilities although Virginia and North Carolina established several state parks near the Parkway. Even more unusual was the fact that Congress never truly defined the boundary for the Parkway. Boundaries were to be adjusted by the Park Service when deemed appropriate. Compared to other National Park areas with Congressionally-defined or legislative boundaries, the Blue Ridge Parkway with its administrative boundaries gave great power to the Park Superintendent and Interior Secretary for the acquisition of additional lands.

In the early 1960's Park Service officials perceived the threat of development along the Parkway. Therefore, to accommodate this end, a 1961 Act of Congress was passed granting the Interior Department the following authority:

... in order to consolidate ... the land forming each such parkway, to adjust ownership lines, and to eliminate hazardous crossings of and accesses to these parkways, the Secretary... is authorized to acquire, by purchase or exchange, land and interests in land contiguous to the parkways.

This piece of legislation still figures prominently in the present-day controversy along the Parkway which will be" discussed later. 7

It was not until after passage of the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act that land acquisition along the Blue Ridge Parkway accelerated at a greater rate than at any time since the mid-1930's. This Act derived monies from off-shore oil leases and other tax sources for the purchase of land by the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, and the National Fish and Wildlife Service and has proven to be an enormous booty of funds for Park land expansion. The Federal government has the authorization to acquire land until 1990 with $4 billion from the LUC Fund. Beginning in the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's the Blue Ridge Parkway shared in this windfall of available funds specifically earmarked for new lands. with such a plethora of money, the primary method of land acquisition along the Parkway in the 1970's was fee simple or the direct purchase of title by the government, putatively on a "willing seller" basis. one method of acquiring land not used in the decade was easements which had constituted a large part of acquisition in the 1930's by the state of Virginia lover approximately 1,200 acres of Parkway). An easement is essentially a contract between a landowner and the government in which the landowner agrees to certain restrictions on his or her property such as not cutting down a tree without permission of the Park Service. For this specified control over part of the land in order to maintain the Park's esthetic mandate, the governmental agency "buys" the easement from the landowner and the landowner retains title to the land. Easements can be scenic, developmental, conservation-type, or other forms, but they all hold the similar thread of being much less costly to the government and negotiable on an individual basis with property owner and government sitting down as equals in a construction of contract law. Easements are merely one form of less-than-fee (a term preferred by the Park Service) land acquisition which includes such other options as cooperative management, leasing, and appropriate zoning laws. Obviously, land can also be procured by the ultimate government power of eminent domain in the form of straight condemnations and Declarations of Taking which have been used very rarely along the Blue Ridge Parkway during the last two decades.8

During the last two years the National Park Service has been attempting to redefine its land acquisition policy. As a part of the NPS's revised policy presented in April of 1979, each park was directed to prepare an individual land acquisition plan which would identify the exact desired parcels of land and the methods of procurement. Accordingly, in March of 1980 Blue Ridge Parkway authorities presented a Draft Land Acquisition Plan. Previously, there had been a draft "Master Plan" begun in 1968, completed in 1971, but not released to the public until 1976. This first draft of 1980 negated the earlier "Master Plan." In fact, as of the very writing of this report, a second Draft Land Acquisition Plan has been prepared by the Parkway office and should be made public at approximately the same time as this report is completed. It is the first 1980 Draft Land Acquisition Plan, however, that is of greater concern to this report as it was that plan which concerned the people along the Parkway during the field research of this study. 9

A sampling of the opinions of the inholders and other affected people of the Blue Ridge Parkway will be presented in the next chapter, but it is appropriate at this time to present the general issues of this report. most of the inholders interviewed by the Parkway expressed deep anxiety about their future, the future of their farms and homes, their children's future on the land, and the future of their cultural heritage. A special purpose of this researcher was to attempt to capture the "feelings'' of the people along the Parkway. As is often the case, the "perceived" reality of people is frequently more significant to the quality of life than the "actual'' reality. How these inholders regarded the Park Service and what they believed its impact on their communities were major questions for this study.

 

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