ASHEVILLE, N.C.— Joined by other dignitaries at opening ceremonies for the new Blue Ridge Parkway Destination Center today, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lyle Laverty praised the new center, saying it will help both the environment and the economy.
“This innovative, environmentally friendly visitor center will boost the enjoyment of visitors and also boost local economies because it provides information on the natural and cultural attractions in the entire region surrounding the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Laverty said. “The increase in heritage tourism will help preserve natural areas and cultural traditions while helping the economy in hundreds of communities in North Carolina and Virginia.”
U.S. Representative Heath Shuler, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr; Executive Director Penn Dameron of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area; National Park Service Acting Southeast Regional Director Paul Anderson; and park superintendent Philip Francis were among the other dignitaries participating in the ceremony.
Located at Milepost 384 of the parkway near Asheville, N.C., the center is the first to provide information for the entire length of the parkway, a unit of the National Park System that stretches from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in western North Carolina.
“The Blue Ridge Parkway serves as a gateway to local communities, cultures, and events throughout the southern Appalachians,” Laverty noted. “Protection of natural and cultural treasures goes hand-in-hand with boosting tourism because studies show that visitors would come to the region less often if the scenic beauty declines.” As Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Laverty oversees policy for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.
National Park Service statistics show that in 2007, 19 million visitors traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway is one of the strongest economic engines in the North Carolina mountains, generating more than $2.3 billion per year for the 17 North Carolina counties through which it passes.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Destination Center was developed as a partnership between the National Park Service; the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, which will be housed at the center; and the Eastern National association. Established by Congress in November 2003, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area recognizes and celebrates the natural abundance and richly varied cultural history of the North Carolina mountains and is charged with the preservation, interpretation and development of heritage resources in the 25 westernmost counties in the state and the Qualla Boundary.
The state-of-the-art “destination center” is the first National Park Service visitor center in the country to offer an I-Wall, a 22-foot interactive map of the entire parkway providing multimedia information on places to visit on and near the parkway. Other exhibits highlight the natural and cultural diversity, economic traditions and recreational opportunities found in western North Carolina and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The center also houses a 70-seat theater featuring a new film, “The Blue Ridge Parkway-America’s Favorite Journey,” shown in high-definition surround sound.
The opening celebration for the new center will continue this Saturday, April 19, 2008, from noon – 4:00 pm with cultural entertainment and guided tours of the building’s ‘green’ features. For more information on Saturday’s events, please call Martha Bogle, (828) 271-4779 ext. 201.