While many people think of the Blue Ridge Parkway just as a scenic highway, it is also a region of varied and significant natural resources.
The Parkway follows the high crests the Blue Ridge Mountains, a distinct region of the central and southern portions of the larger Appalachian Mountains range, for 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
The name of the Blue Ridge Mountains comes from their bluish color and the soft blue haze that seems to wrap the mountains from a distance. It is actually the trees that put the “blue” in Blue Ridge. Isoprene, an organic compound produced by many species of broadleaf trees and shrubs native to the region, is released into the atmosphere contributing to the characteristic haze on the mountains and their distinctive color.
Along this route there is an unsurpassed diversity of climate zones, vegetation zones, physiographic zones, and geological features. The more than 81,000 acres of Parkway lands pass through a highland area of five degrees longitude and approximately three degrees latitude, making it the third largest unit of the National Park Service in terms of area covered. Park resources include 600 streams (150 headwaters), 47 Natural Heritage Areas (areas set aside as national, regional or state examples of exemplary natural communities), a variety of slopes and exposures, and possibly 100 different soil types. With an elevation range of 5,700 feet the Parkway provides a home for both southern species at the lower elevations and northern species on the mountaintops.
The Blue Ridge Parkway National Park Service (NPS) Resource Management newsletter is available for download here and it is filled with information on the Parkway’s natural wonders as well as current information on Parkway conditions such as how the wetter-than-normal year has affected what you can see in the forest.