Today is a day to remember. We reflect on the lives senselessly lost and the heroism selflessly displayed on 9/11 nine years ago. Much will be written about the significance of this day; my woefully inadequate words do not need to be added. Instead, I want to tell you about something you may not know. This day of sadness also marks a happy remembrance.
On September 11, 1935, construction began on the Blue Ridge Parkway. America’s favorite highway turned 75 today. In the middle of the Great Depression, jobs were created for 100 unemployed men to build this road. With its postcard-perfect scenes and abundance of places to pull over to take pictures, take a hike, or take a boat out on a mountain lake, it’s a good thing that the speed limit never exceeds 45-mph. The 469-mile parkway links Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited part of the National Park System with 17 million visitors per year. No wonder: it’s free to drive on.
As a newcomer to these parts, at first it seemed that the terms Smokies, Blue Ridge, and Appalachia can be used interchangeably. I’ve since discovered that they are not synonyms. The Smoky Mountains are only in Tennessee and North Carolina. They are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains (ranging from Pennsylvania to Georgia) which are part of the larger Appalachians (spanning Newfoundland to Alabama).What I love about the Smokies is that they are lush and green. Being among the oldest mountains in the world, they are pleasantly rounded and soothing, not dramatic and craggy as the Rockies. The Cherokees named them The Place of Blue Smoke because of the blue mist which constantly hovers.
Happy 75th, Blue Ridge Parkway! Thank you for reminding us that beauty still exists.