The Blue Ridge Parkway, the beautiful route that approximately 15 million people visit each year, requires a lot of people to keep running. A key piece to this is volunteers – unpaid and serving out of love for the Parkway.
Volunteers have a tremendous impact. In fiscal year 2021, over 1,200 volunteers contributed more than 40,000 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 calls 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.
The annual volunteer event, called Project Parkway, showcases the magnitude of volunteerism. This spring event allows dozens of volunteers to worked simultaneously at the Parkway’s eight campgrounds and at several picnic areas. To put this into perspective, while volunteers at Mt. Pisgah Campground, 25 miles south of Asheville, NC, work to clean out fire pits, another volunteer may be doing the same over 300 miles away at Otter Creek Campground in Virginia.
At Project Parkway, volunteers work 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 are incalculable. Project Parkway takes place at a pivotal time, just a few short weeks before the campgrounds, visitor centers and picnic areas along the Parkway open for seasonal use.
“We are so grateful for the many, dedicated volunteers who give their time volunteering with the National Park Service,” says Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Tracy Swartout. “Those who choose to share their time and talents alongside us have a lasting impact on the park and its visitors.”
At Project Parkway, people of all ages work alongside one another for a common good. There are parents with 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 camp, hike, bike, paddle, fish, birdwatch, and more.
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.