The Blue Ridge Parkway, the beautiful drive that over 14 million people visited in 2018, requires a lot of people to keep running, as you could imagine. A key piece to this is volunteers – unpaid and serving out of love for the Parkway.
Volunteers have a tremendous impact. In fiscal year 2018, 1184 volunteers spent 44,276 hours in service to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Volunteers give of themselves and their time year-round to support the Blue Ridge Parkway in so many different ways.
Volunteers interact with the public and answer questions at visitor centers. They give interpretive programs. They serve as campground hosts. They maintain our trails. They pick up trash at overlooks. They are stationed at popular trails and educate visitors on the importance of staying on trail. The list goes on.
The number of volunteers-in-parks (VIPs), as the National Park Service terms them, and volunteer hours correspond to the funding each park receives for its volunteer program. This funding is channeled to the seven regional offices from the Washington D.C. Area Support Office (WASO)- the National Park Service’s national headquarters. The regional offices then distribute funds to the parks in their region to support their volunteer programs.
Each park’s number of volunteers and hours is critical in determining just how much they receive. As one could imagine, the larger number of VIPs and volunteer hours, the more funding allocated. This funding provides support for the volunteer programs for the purchase of necessary items such as uniforms, supplies, training, and administrative support.
One single-day volunteer event, called Project Parkway, showcased the magnitude of volunteerism. Project Parkway took place on Saturday, April 27th, 2019. At this event, about 200 volunteers worked simultaneously at the Parkway’s 8 campgrounds and at several picnic areas. To put this into perspective, while volunteers at Mt. Pisgah Campground, 25 miles south of Asheville, NC, worked to clean out fire pits, another volunteer was doing the same over 300 miles away at Otter Creek Campground in Virginia.
At Project Parkway, volunteers worked to clean out fire pits and grills, remove leaf and tree debris, build stairs, install new fire pits, replace picnic table benches, and build water bars on trails. The effects of these efforts were incalculable. Project Parkway took place at a pivotal time, a few short weeks before the start of the Parkway’s busy season, when most campgrounds and facilities were to open to the public. With the efforts by volunteers, Parkway facilities were able to do just that.
J.D. Lee, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway praised Project Parkway volunteers, saying, “The impact of your contribution to this event will reach far beyond the tasks you completed. You have assisted Park staff, contributed to a positive experience for park visitors, and hopefully had a little bit of fun too.”
At Project Parkway, people of all ages worked alongside one another for a common good. There were parents with their young children, scout troops, retirees, and college students. All of these people have a connection of some sort to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some recall camping in a Parkway campground with their families as a child, and, now in their adult lives, come back every year. Some have roots in Parkway communities spanning generations. Others, in their short lives, have come to appreciate the Parkway as a natural playground, where they can hike, bike, paddle, fish, birdwatch, etc.
Whatever the reason people give back to the Blue Ridge Parkway through volunteering, they are having a tremendous impact. The Parkway truly would not be what it is today without them. If you’re interested in volunteering or supporting this work, learn more here.