The Common Landscape: A Case for Using Participatory Strategies to Improve Management of the Blue Ridge Parkway Viewshed

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The most popular site in the National Park System, the Blue Ridge Parkway—long-promoted as a key to the region’s economic and environmental well-being—generates billions of dollars in tourism-related activity in western North Carolina and Virginia. However, an exploration of the conservation and economic history of western North Carolina before and after the Parkway’s construction reveals a complex and often controversial relationship between the Parkway and the surrounding region. In this paper, I investigate whether the National Parks Service’s management of the Parkway is fulfilling both its own mandates and its promise to adjacent communities outside the park’s borders. This exploration reveals that regional land-use trends are putting at risk the key resource which sustains the Parkway and related tourism activity: the scenic viewshed.

In North Carolina, the persistence of these threats necessitates an assessment of Parkway-related policies which guide efforts to grow the regional economy and protect the Blue Ridge Mountains’ natural and cultural heritage. I find that existing plans and initiatives lack the scale and scope needed to address viewshed threats. Because of the region’s checkerboard land-management and overlapping public-private lands, increasingly, private and non-profit conservation tools might represent the best available means for improving viewshed preservation. Implementing these strategies at a landscape scale requires convincing regional landowners and environmental organizations to work with government agencies with a frequency and in a way that promotes compromise and communication regarding best practices for maintaining the balance between land-use priorities. Ultimately, I suggest that planners consider the Parkway viewshed as a landscape-scale, common-pool resource and emphasize rural stakeholder participation in a comprehensive viewshed preservation initiative.





Piacenza, Anthony Thomas (2018). The Common Landscape: A Case for Using Participatory Strategies to Improve Management of the Blue Ridge Parkway Viewshed. Capstone project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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