No matter how wonderful you think the National Park Service is, the agency can always use a helping hand. And, thankfully, there are groups ready to extend that helping hand.
For instance, a nearly $4 million deal with one of the country's largest railroads has placed almost 1,500 wooded acres, including some that are highly visible from Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks, into a conservation easement that will protect them from ever being logged or developed. It took six years of negotiating by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (www.ctnc.org), but boy was the wait ever worth it.
Not only does the deal protect viewsheds along the famed parkway, but also sections of an historic trail (www.nps.gov/ovvi/index.htm) that served a role during the Revolutionary War. Under the agreement with CSX Corp., 1,488 acres will be placed in a conservation easement managed by the state of North Carolina, with monitoring by the conservation trust.
The land in question is found in McDowell County, North Carolina, near Little Switzerland, and borders the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 325 to Milepost 329.5. It contains forested mountain views from three Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks, encompasses 1.5 miles of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (www.nps.gov/ovvi/), and protects all or part of two North Carolina Significant Natural Heritage Areas along with seven miles of pristine streams that are sources for drinking water supplies and include native brook trout habitat.
"Protection of this property is critical to the future of the Blue Ridge Parkway, because it's the spectacular views that keep bringing people here. It's an added bonus that the Overmountain Victory Trail will be opened for hiking," said Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis. "This land conservation achievement is a perfect way to help kick off the celebrations of the parkway's 75th anniversary over the next year."
Adds Paul Caron, superintendent of the national historic trail, "This is a wonderful partnership in which many different organizations are achieving different goals. Ours is to preserve more of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. On the CSX property, we are protecting sections of the trail that, as far as we know, follow its original route. That's a very unique opportunity, because few of the older sections of the trail exist today. Once we are able to open it to the public, people will be able to actually walk in the footsteps of the patriots who came this way in 1780."
Another ongoing example of helping hands can be found at Yosemite National Park where, over the years, The Yosemite Fund has donated more than $55 million for worthy park projects. Recently the Fund presented park officials with a $5.8 million check to help pay for a wide range of projects.
"People care deeply about preserving Yosemite," said Mike Tollefson, the Fund's president and a former Yosemite superintendent. "Without help from our generous donors, many of these projects would not be possible."
Yosemite Fund donors paid for 56 projects in 2009 to improve the park. The Fund's signature project this year was the $800,000 rehabilitation of the Half Dome Overlook, which improved vehicle and pedestrian access, educational signage and viewing terraces, and protected natural habitat.
Kurt Repanshek is the author of several national park guidebooks, including National Parks With Kids. You can get a daily dose of national park news, trivia, and commentary by visiting www.nationalparkstraveler.com, which tracks "Commentary, News, and Life in America's Parks." Follow National Parks Traveler on Twitter at www.twitter.com/parkstraveler.