The Northern Highlands Chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway almost didn’t make it through Alleghany County.  Original plans called for a route that would have taken the scenic highway through Tennessee and on into Virginia.  Laurel Springs’ native, Congressman Robert Lee “Bob” Doughton lobbied for a North Carolina path for the Parkway.  According to the documentary, A Long and Winding Road, a deal was struck that brokered Doughton’s support for President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act in exchange for the Parkway to pass through North Carolina.  There may be many political or social arguments made for or against that deal and the resulting legislation.  Those arguments aside, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gem for Alleghany County that continues to shine brightly due to the diligent work of an enthusiastic group of volunteers.

The Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway are dedicated to the preservation and stewardship of the Parkway’s natural and cultural resources.  Along the 469 mile linear national park, several local groups operate under the umbrella of the larger friends group.

Northern HIghlands Chapter 4/11/15

Northern HIghlands Chapter 4/11/15

The Northern Highlands Chapter is responsible for the section of Parkway from the North Carolina/Virginia line to Deep Gap, roughly 50 or so miles.  In addition to organized group activities such as the recent cleanup at Doughton Park, individuals adopt overlooks, trails, cemeteries, etc.  Last year this chapter contributed 5500 volunteer hours.

Within this group are individuals from varied backgrounds.  Alleghany County natives Ronald and Debby Edwards contribute many hours to their adopted overlooks – Wildcat Rocks and Alligator Backs.  In addition to routine maintenance, both are chainsaw certified with the national park service which allows them to help remove fallen trees and limbs.

Robert Edwards

Ronald Edwards

Debby Edwards

Debby Edwards

In contrast, husband and wife, Dennis Tremble and Nancy Kish, were drawn to Alleghany later in life, in part by the Parkway.  Along with two other couples, they have resumed gardening at Brinegar Cabin.  There they cultivate an authentic, subsistence garden that utilizes heirloom plants.  They also plant flax which when harvested is spun into yarn.  They can be found most Tuesdays working the garden throughout the summer months.

Mack and Frankie Pittman

Mack and Frankie Pittman

All these individuals donate their time and efforts out of a love for the Parkway.  However, the impact of their maintenance and educational work extends well beyond an emotional connection.  According to a 7/30/14 article published in the Alleghany News, the Blue Ridge Parkway had over 12 million visitors in 2013 who spent $782,926,000 in local communities across those 469 miles.  Having clean, safe overlooks and other facilities encourage those visitors to stop and spend time in those communities.  While blowing leaves, cleaning ditches and gardening may not seem like economic development work, in reality it is that very thing.

When “Farmer Bob” Doughton struck that deal with FDR during the height of the Great Depression, he may have had a variety of motivations.  The nation was locked in the throes of the Great Depression and the project put many local men to work.  Some may point to the Social Security Act as New Deal policies that changed how the government positively or negatively interacts with our personal lives depending on one’s perspective.  But, the one thing on which most will agree is that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great asset to Alleghany County.  And while they often go unnoticed, the Northern Highlands Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is committed to ensuring that this asset is well maintained and ready for visitors.

Photos courtesy of the Northern Highlands Chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway

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If you would like to know more about you can volunteer with the Northern Highlands Chapter contact Joyce Speas at 336-601-6118 or by email at joyce.speas@gmail.com

Carolyn Osborne and the Alleghany County Public Library

Those who live long enough learn that life is full of twists and turns and stops and starts.  Few experience a predictable life journey that plays out completely as planned or expected.  The ability to adapt has always been important, but in the current economy changes can come quickly and dramatically.  Carolyn Williams Osborne exhibited a decisive response when she faced a major life change as she entered midlife.

The middle child of five daughters, Carolyn was raised in the Stratford community of Alleghany County.  Her dad was a mason and his rock and brick work can be found across the county.  She attended Sparta Elementary and graduated from Alleghany High School.  For 10-12 summers she worked at the Bluff Coffee Shop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Carolyn counts this as one of her favorite jobs as it allowed her to meet people from all over the world.  She also stitched together t-shirts for years in Sparta, first at Hanes and then for Bassett Walker.  Her life was on a comfortable and predictable path.

That all changed when textile jobs migrated south as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  North Carolina lost thousands of textile jobs.  Alleghany County was impacted with hundreds of lost jobs.  Carolyn was one of those who found themselves suddenly unemployed.

At age 44, Carolyn found herself at a crossroads.  The Transitional Adjustment Assistance Program was a part of the NAFTA agreement and offered educational assistance for displaced workers.  Taking advantage of the educational opportunity presented to her, she enrolled at Wilkes Community College’s (WCC) Alleghany Center.  Since 25 years had passed since her high school days, Carolyn spent her first semester in remedial classes.  Not only did she have to catch up on academics, she had to relearn study skills.  Once she reestablished those skills, she was ready to get down to business.

After obtaining her associate degree at WCC, she enrolled in the elementary education program at Appalachian State University.  As a commuter student, she memorized every curve in every road between Sparta and Boone as she made the trip each day.  She completed her degree requirements by doing her student teaching at Piney Creek Elementary School.  She then spent four years with Wilkes County Schools, first at North Wilkesboro Elementary and then at Mulberry Elementary.

Carolyn Osborne

Carolyn Osborne

But the draw to home is a strong, magnetic force.  When a job opened in 2009 at the Alleghany County Public Library Carolyn applied and is now the library program assistant.  Her favorite activity is story time with children.  Specifically she enjoys broadening those children’s horizons, and instilling in them a love of books and learning.  She especially enjoys taking that program out into the community at day care facilities.

Carolyn says that most people would be surprised at the number and diversity of programs offered by the library.  Patrons can come in to learn basic computer skills that can prepare them for more advanced classes at WCC.  The “Lunch and Learn” program offers a variety of 1-2 hour long informational classes for adults.  In addition to print books, the library offers ebooks and DVDs.

Carolyn credits WCC as helping her navigate through that transitional period from unemployed textile worker to adult student.  There were basic skills that she had to learn and enhance.  Now at the library, she has the opportunity to give back to the community that helped her through a difficult time in life.  It is a value that is Absolutely Alleghany.