by Kent Anderson
page two





This chapter will be the longest in this report and probably the most important since it is a catalogue of people living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. These brief profiles, or case studies, hopefully will illuminate the human aspect of the land acquisition controversies surrounding the Parkway. Despite the variety of opinions presented, the reader should look for threads of consistency. Many comments may seem minor at first reading, but taken together as part of the entire portrait of life along the Blue Ridge Parkway they, hopefully, form an interesting and valuable human document.

Haskell and Odessa Meredith (Photo 11)

Haskell Meredith has owned his farm off the Parkway for 42 years having inherited the property (Photo 12) from his father when he was in his twenties. Two of Haskell and Odessa's sons and their families have built homes on the property just across Virginia state road 685 from their parents. Meredith would like to be able to pass along his land to his sons as his father had done for him, but he is not assured of that future. At about the time the first Draft Land Acquisition Plan was released in early 1980 a couple of Park rangers came to the Merediths and explained that five acres of their farmland was a "target" area (a term which, understandably, causes considerable distress among the inholders). It was further explained that the land was needed (by fee acquisition) for a probable underpass sometime in the future to connect up with road 685. The part of 685 which came directly off the Parkway as an entrance to the Meredith farm would be closed at that connection. What the Parkway failed to realize about this acquisition, as Meredith explained, was that the proposed path of the underpass Photo 13) was to run along the current route of the creek on his farm (Photo 14). Without that creek the 28 head of cattle owned by Haskell Meredith would have no place to drink, and without his cattle, this proud man and his family would have no livelihood. Meredith felt he was in a hopeless situation. Fortunately, however, it seems that this story may have a happier ending! The new second Draft Acquisition Plan for the Parkway has deleted the five acres of Haskell and Odessa as a "targeted" area. This cannot assuage, though, the months of uncertainty the Merediths endured about the future of their land. 1

Elwood and Flora Amburn (Photo 15)

Elwood Amburn is 64 years old and has been on his land adjoining the Parkway all of his life (Photo 16). The land has been in his family for several generations, Amburn's grandfather having left the land briefly to fight in the Civil War. Saying that they have been "badgered a lot" by the Park Service, Flora Amburn described various unpleasant encounters with rangers. once they were told to remove their dairy farm milk cans from their driveway because they were called an "eyesore.'' Even more infuriating was the time in 1979 when they were in the funeral procession of a former friend, Mrs. Rector, who had lived nearby. The short procession of automobiles was halted while attempting to get onto the Parkway to proceed to the nearby cemetery. After a prolonged discussion with the rangers, the procession was forced to travel along a dirt road which approximately paralleled the Parkway. The Amburns also complained that whenever a ranger became the least bit friendly or sympathetic to the plight of inholders, he was transferred. Elwood Amburn was truly amazed at the fact that the Park Service wants several acres of his land in order to build a Los Angeles type cloverleaf and overpass in front of his property (Photo 17). In the fall of 1979, during one of the frequent thick fogs, there was a minor auto accident which was part of the reason the rangers gave to Amburn for the proposed construction. They also told the dairy farmer that this was part of the Parkway's planning for fifty years into the future and the anticipated traffic which would follow. Unlike Haskell Meredith, Elwood Amburn was very confident in his struggle against the Park Service to retain his land. He said, "We're gonna beat 'em," and explained this due to his belief that the land acquisition of the NPS will prove too costly for cloverleaves and underpasses even though he feels that the Park Service has devalued his land. 2

Sue Hill

The daughter of Lewis Woltz Edwards, Sue Hill said that her mistrust of the Park Service is so great that she feels, "just living on the Parkway is a threat". Her father would like to give his 26 acres of land to Sue and her husband and move into the Carroll county seat of Hillsville because he is no longer able to work the land. Because the land is next to a "targeted" area, though, there is uncertainty about what the family should do. Calling the land her "birthright", Hill stated that her suspicions about the lack of good faith of the Park Service were sparked by the Groundhog Mountain incident which will be discussed in the next chapter. 3

Lillie Mabry

Like many inholders of the area the family of the widow Mabry goes back for generations into the Blue Ridge Mountains. A sacred part of the life of Lillie Mabry nowadays is to visit her late husband's gravesite at the family cemetery, hidden 20 or 30 yards from the Parkway. This is the Dickens family cemetery (Photo 18). In 1972 the Park Service informed her that they intended to close the short direct access road from the Parkway to the cemetery and said that they would construct a back access dirt road which would add about two miles in distance for a trek from Parkway to cemetery. Then the elderly Mabry asked Park officials who would maintain such a road they told her that it would be her responsibility since the cemetery was a private one. Since that time Parkway officials appear to be retreating from that specific position as it seems the second Draft plan calls for NPS maintenance of private as well as public cemeteries and their access roads. For much of the past decade, though, Lillie Mabry wondered despairingly whether she would be able to visit her family plot when she wished. 4

Bernard Alderman

Adjoining the cemetery Lillie Mabry visited is the 1/4 acre lot of Bernard's son, Randy Joe, who currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida. The senior Alderman has been building a small home for his son, but the efforts by the Park Service to close the cemetery access road also would mean that the same access road to his sons property would change from a few yards off the Parkway to a lengthy, hilly dirt road. No rangers had explained anything to Alderman about what was intended for the road to his son's lot. All that Alderman had heard was what had happened to Lillie Mabry. The Park Service had convinced a small landowner nearby Alderman to sell (Photo 19). He had already built the foundation for a small house, but, with such an uncertain future, he had no idea how to proceed. 5

Reverend George Semones

Coming from one of the oldest families on the Blue Ridge, George Semones has had a wealth of experience with the Park Service. About 12 years ago he voluntarily gave up his access road to the Parkway out of respect for the wishes of the NPS, but has since regretted that decision. Like some inholders, Semones leases part of his land from the government nearest the Parkway. In 1978, while cutting timber on his leased land in order to build a fence, he was accosted by a ranger on his property who told him that chopping wood on government land was illegal. After Semones informed the ranger that his lease for the few acreage had no stipulation regarding the clearing of land, the ranger disagreed violently and threatened to take the soft-spoken retired minister to jail immediately. Later, when the ranger learned that he was totally misinformed about the lease, he apologized for his actions, but the incident nevertheless has had a profound impact on his family and neighbors. Rev. Semones is convinced that the local property owners are fully capable of good home and land care, but that the Parkway officials refuse to acknowledge that possibility. He said that no one knows the local watershed and erosion problems better than the indigenous population. As proof of Park Service lack of land use skill, he cited the inaccurate government code regarding the quantity of fertilizer required for land leased from the NPS. The code specified 200 pounds per acre, but Semones stated that nothing would grow with that little of an amount adding that local land required 300 to 400 pounds of fertilizer per acre. The Reverend had only one acre under active farming, but he was very proud of the fact that it yielded 300 bushels of corn. George Semones recently signed a letter of Agreement, or, more accurately, an Agricultural Lease Permit which has became a fairly new arrangement between the Parkway and those inholders who have leased some of their frontage land from the NPS. A Letter of Agreement is a contract whereby the Park Service drops its yearly nominal fee for leasing in return for turning over the maintenance of the land to the inholder. Depending on the individual contract, the inholder would agree to such conditions as mowing the grass, harvesting the hay, and allowing periodic soil analyses. These arrangements have signified a new spirit of cooperation between the Parkway and the inholders, and Rev. Semones felt that they were a good sign, but this peaceful man was still fearful of a violent incident in the future because he is convinced that the Park Service will not retreat from its aggressive land acquisition policy until it confronts an equally determined opponent, namely the local inholders. 6

Ray and Margaret Semones

Ray is a son of George Semones and owns an auto repair shop near the Parkway. Technically, Ray and Margaret Semones are not inholders since their property does not adjoin Parkway land, but their contact with the Parkway rangers has been anything but indirect. In the spring of 1978 Semones put a 1-1/2 by 15 foot sign above his auto shop which had been a commercial property on that site for over 50 years. Shortly thereafter, two rangers told Semones that he would have to remove his sign because it was illegal. He asked the rangers for more specific details on such a law. He was given a legal citation which he discovered, after some investigation, was a state statute, not Federal, and totally inapplicable to his situation. Ray Semones then wrote a letter to his Congressman, William C. Wampler. Following that, some of the rangers returned to Ray's shop to apologize for their harassment. One of the original rangers, however, also came by later and interrupted Semones' work to loudly ask by what right he had to write his Congressman and cause the ranger trouble. Since that incident Semones has felt that the rangers have kept a close eye on his shop and activities. In the spring of 1980 Ray received a call from a stranded motorist. He informed the tourist with the disabled vehicle that he would first have to call a ranger and ask permission to drive his tow truck onto the Parkway since commercial driving had been banned from the Parkway since the late 1930's. Semones called a ranger and received authorization to assist the stranded tourist. While driving his tow truck on the Parkway, however, two different rangers pulled him over and told him that he would have to be ticketed for being on the Parkway. Neither ranger believed Ray until after heated and prolonged discussion and the verification of the original call. Ray and Margaret Semones are getting very tired of Park ranger harassment. They said they have reached the point where they feel like selling their land and leaving the area. Perpetual petty interference in the details of their lives is given as a major reason for their depression. Margaret Semones said she used to consider herself "pro-ecology" when she originally moved into the Blue Ridge Mountains from Florida. After years, though of watching tourists defile the land with beer cans tossed from their passing cars only to have Parkway rangers continually "hassle" their daily living, as if inholders were assumed to be the greater threat to the environment, her former notions of ecological protection have been shattered. 7

Some of the Youth of the Blue Ridge (Photos 20 and 21)

Like many of the youth living in the Mountains, Olen Dalton, Pam Painter, Delila Brady, and Rosie Vass enjoy horseback riding, but they complained that the National Park Service makes it extremely difficult to pursue this recreational activity. They stated that it seemed both unfair and inconsistent for the Park Service to allow bicycles to travel along the pavement of the Parkway while horses are not permitted even to go along the grassy shoulders bordering each side of the road. They understood the rangers' concern that horses occasionally act skittish near auto traffic, but the four were discouraged by this limitation on one of the more delightful aspects of living in the Blue Ridge. Even more troubling to them, was the threat by the rangers that if they were caught riding alongside the Parkway a second time (after receiving a ticket for the first offense) their horses would be taken away from them. During past winters they had often helped pull cars out of the snow on the Parkway, but then ordered to cease whenever they were seen by rangers. Once Olen Dalton was driving his horse in a trailer along the Parkway when he was stopped by a ranger. The ranger informed him that if he were taking the horse to an auction, he would be given a ticket; however, if he were taking the horse along the Parkway in order to get off at some point and go on a trail ride, there would be no penalty. In other words, if the eventual purpose of a vehicle on the Parkway, no matter what the cargo, was recreational, there was no "hassle." On the other hand, if the intent of the driver was some eventual commercial purpose, that would be illegal. Certainly the horseback riding of the quartet described here is recreational and it adds a charming pastoral ambience to the vista of the Blue Ridge Parkway as proven by the fact that many tourists driving along have stopped and asked if they might photograph them. These young people on horses have always obliged the tourists. 8

David Puckett (Photo 5)

Eighteen year-old David Puckett is also a young person who lives in the shadow of the Parkway. As part of one of the more famous families in the Blue Ridge, David has totally lost faith in the ability of the National Park Service to manage the land and preserve the mountain culture of the Blue Ridge. He and his brother are the last two remaining heirs of Orlena Puckett, the famed legendary midwife of the Mountains, whom the Parkway has immortalized by the preservation of Puckett's Cabin (Photo 8), a popular tourist sight. Puckett is annoyed by the fact that, in spite of the proclaimed intent of the NPS to preserve the local culture, the Parkway made several sloppy errors in establishing Puckett's Cabin as an official tourist sight. For one thing, David said that the "cabin" was not really the actual cabin used by his famous relative, but the smokehouse. Also the Parkway sign describing the cabin and Orlena Puckett spelled her name "Orlean" and states that she lived to the age of 102. About one hundred yards across the Parkway from Puckett's Cabin is the grave of the midwife which clearly spelled her name "Orlena" and indicated that she died at the age of 100 (Photo 6). More trouble some for the present for Puckett is what he called the Park Service harassment which threatens his future on the land which has been in his family for generations. In their effort to close virtually all private access roads leading to the Parkway, Park Service officials suggested to Puckett that he substitute his present access road for a formerly-maintained state road (Photo 7) which would not only force an additional 1-1/2 miles of travel (from the present few hundred yards), but the suggested road is so rough that it is suitable only for four-wheel drive vehicles and virtually impassible in winter. According to Puckett, loss of the current road would also prevent necessary bus access to a Christian retreat located just beyond his land. David Puckett stated that he has become so discouraged that he can no longer believe anything the NPS says. 9


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