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Officials worry high gas prices may be part to blame for a drop in the number of visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2005, according to an Associated Press report.
It’s the third consecutive year the 70-year-old scenic road’s popularity declined.
Winding over 400 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, the road is a source of lifeblood for the communities along the Blue Ridge, which count on parkway tourists for money.
Numbers released last month show about 18.67 million people drove along the road in 2005. It marks a 6.3% decline from 2004, which saw 19.94 million visitors.
Camping stays also declined last year, to 65,630 nights last year from 88,561 in 2004. National Park Service spokesman Phil Noblitt attributed this both to the rainy weather and the primitive facilities.
“The National Park Service designed the parkway in the 1930s and 1940s,” he said. “The ideas of camping were much more rustic then. The numbers have declined because we don’t have the resources to modernize.”
Wayne Strickland, executive director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, a planning district that embraces various communities along the parkway, pointed squarely to rising gas prices.
“Instead of driving to a place and hanging out, you have to drive the parkway,” Strickland said. “It’s a driving experience. It has to do with the price of gas.”
He didn’t rule out tourist perceptions of the parkway as less than scenic. Or the notion that for Generation Now, driving for driving’s sake may have little appeal.
“The parkway may not appeal to the younger folks,” Strickland said. “The Baby Boomers enjoyed it. The younger generation, they like to be entertained.”
Noblitt wondered if something more sweeping wasn’t underway. He feared years of homebuilding near the two-lane blacktop, along with air pollution, may have finally taken a toll.