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Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a federally-funded scenic "recreational" highway in the U.S, noted nationally for its amazing beauty. It runs for 469 miles or 755km through the famous Blue Ridge Mountains, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. The land on either side of the road is a national park, and thus is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service as a national parkway.

Originally begun by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the administration of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, it took over fifty-two years to complete, the last stretch (near the Linn Cove Viaduct) being laid around Grandfather Mountain in 1987. Several short tunnels were constructed through the rock, one reason parts of the parkway are often closed in winter. (Due to dripping groundwater from above, freezing temperatures, and the lack of sunshine, ice often accumulates inside these areas.) The highest point on the parkway (between Asheville and Waynesville, in North Carolina) is 6053 feet or 1845m AMSL, and is often closed due to inclement weather such as snow, fog, and even freezing fog from low clouds.

The parkway spans from U.S. 441 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina, to the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. There is no fee for using the parkway, however commercial vehicles are prohibited, except for tour buses. The roadway is not maintained in winter conditions, and sections which pass over especially high elevations and through tunnels are often impassable and therefore closed from late fall through early spring. Weather is extremely variable in the mountains, so conditions and closures often change rapidly.

Turnoffs on the two-lane road are never directly to other highways, and none at all at the interstate highways. Each crossing connects with a short side road, making it possible to travel the entire length without stopping for traffic, rather only for the scenery, including wildlife. Mileposts along the parkway are numbered the reverse of most in the U.S., beginning in the northeast and running to the southwest. Also, unlike virtually all other roads in the U.S., the mileposts do not reset to zero when a state line is crossed. Major towns along the way include Waynesboro, Roanoke, and Galax in Virginia; and in North Carolina, Boone and Asheville, where it runs across the property of the Biltmore Estate. The Blue Ridge Music Center (also part of the park) is located in Galax, and Mount Mitchell (the highest point in eastern North America) is only accessible via a state road from the parkway.

Ecology along the parkway

Wildflowers dominate the parkway in the spring, including rhododendrons and dogwoods, moving from valleys to mountains as the cold weather retreats. Smaller annuals and perennials such as the daisy and aster flower through the summer. Brilliant autumn foliage occurs later in September on the mountaintops, descending down to the valleys by later in October. Often in early to middle October and middle to late April, all three seasons can be seen simply by looking down from the cold and windy parkway to the green and warm valleys below. October is especially dramatic, as the colored leaves stand out boldly and occur mostly at the same time, unlike the flowers.

Major trees include oak, hickory, and tuliptree at lower elevations and buckeye and mountain ash in the middle, turning into conifers such as fir and spruce at the highest elevations on the parkway. Trees near ridges, peaks, and passes (often called gaps or notches) are often distorted and even contorted by the wind, and persistent rime ice deposited by passing clouds in the winter.

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