The concept of the Blue Ridge Parkway was to build a scenic connection between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Even before it was approved by Congress, controversy reigned over the route and clouded the possibility the nations favorite ride would ever be built.
There were strong proponents for building the scenic highway from three states – Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Originally, they more or less worked together to get the idea launched. Virginia’s route was fairly clear. It would course south from Shenandoah National Park following the highest ridges of the Smoky Mountains. The problem came on which way to go once the border with North Carolina was reached. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is divided right down the middle between Tennessee and North Carolina sharing equal portions in each state. In which state would the parkways southern end of this now classic ride reach Great Smoky Park?
Tennessee argued the route should be shared between the three states arriving on the north side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park about 40 miles south of Knoxville. North Carolina had different ideas, and a powerful lobby arose from the city of Asheville who wanted the road to pass near it. Reeling from the depression, Asheville felt it’s future relied on tourism and without the parkway, it would would not survive.
Two routes were laid out. North Carolina proposed following the highest passages through the tallest mountains in the east, a route which would not only maximize the views, but come right by Asheville. Tennessee chose a route further north which included both mountains and scenic valleys highlighting various features along the way. It would leave Asheville, the only city of size in the Carolina mountains, in isolation.
Right up to the last minute, it appeared the three state route would prevail. In the end though, it was the powerful and well connected proponents from Asheville who convinced the legislature to favor the route which avoided Tennessee entirely thereby stealing the road from Tennessee.
Riding the parkway it’s easy to see the right choice was made. The highest, most scenic and breathtaking views are found in the North Carolina sections both north and south of Asheville. What a different park we would have now had it been otherwise.