Mark Woods’ love of the outdoors was kindled through scouting. A native of South Carolina, Woods worked his way through the program attaining its highest level of achievement – Eagle Scout. His educational path led him from Newberry College to Lander University to Texas A&M and finally to the University of California – Davis. His work place journey was just as geographically varied with time spent in national parks in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky and the Virgin Islands. He also had a stint with the South Carolina State Park system. Married, he is the father of three and grandfather to two. He and his wife, Ginny, live in Lake Junaluska, NC.
The Boy Scout Code of Honor continues to serve him well in his role as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. When he assumed this position 2½ years ago, he inherited a 10 year, $450 million backlog of deferred maintenance. The Parkway’s current maintenance budget of $7 million can do little to chip away at this perpetual maintenance issue. He addresses these and other challenges with a strong sense of duty and commitment.
Superintendent Woods recently spoke to approximately 60 citizens and elected officials in Sparta about the current state of the Parkway. In spite of the challenges he faces, he spoke in optimistic terms of the future of this linear park.
A part of the national park system, the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited park site in the United States with over 15 million visitors in 2015. Snaking along 469 miles that winds through 29 counties in two states, the Parkway is anchored to the north by the Shenandoah National Park and at the southern end by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The Parkway is designed for visitors to “Ride and while, and stop a while.” 900 vistas and overlooks combined with over 300 miles of hiking trails make those stops worthwhile.
But encouraging visitors to explore beyond the Parkway boundary is also part of its design. Superintendent Woods described the Parkway as a “carefully landscaped window from which to view southern Appalachia.” He said the goal is to, “whet the appetite of visitors for further exploration into adjoining communities.” He identified nurturing and strengthening the connections between the Parkway and local communities as a top priority of Parkway staff.
Woods listed a number of upcoming projects that will directly impact the Alleghany County section of the Parkway. The wood shakes on the Bringer Cabin are scheduled to be replaced. Maintenance crews will be removing hazard trees and clearing overgrown vistas. Potholes between mile markers 216 and 228 are scheduled to be repaired. And picnic areas will be enhanced with new tables where needed.
Perhaps the most exciting news was his announcement of a $100,000 donation that will be used to mitigate the mold issue at the Bluff Coffee Shop. The coffee shop was closed in 2011 and has since developed a serious mold problem. Renovation of shop and camp store cannot take place until this problem is resolved. It is hoped that this work can begin soon. He emphasized that reopening the coffee shop is one of his personal priorities.
A similar problem exists with the Bluff Lodge. The current plan is to focus first on the coffee shop and then assess the lodge.
Moving forward, Woods listed three goals for the Parkway. First, he and his staff are committed to providing a high level of public service. While they have suffered the loss of staff positions in recent years, volunteers contributed over 100,000 hours of labor annually. He pointed out that it is sometimes difficult to strike a balance between competing values, using grass mowing as an example. He said he gets many requests for more manicured look to the Parkway through frequent mowing. He said he also get requests for less mowing to enhance wild flowers along the drive. Striking a balance with issues such as these are always challenging.
Second, he plans to continue strengthening the working relationships with local communities. Along the length of the Parkway, visitors spent $952 million in local communities. He pointed out that the Parkway is a tremendous economic driver for towns and counties along this 469 mile corridor. By working cooperatively, this economic benefit can be enhanced and grown.
And finally, he is committed to enacting short and long term strategies for taking care of the Parkway. Over 200 miles of the Parkway have not been paved in 20 years. The harsh environment of the higher elevations creates continual maintenance issues on both the roadway and structures. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has proven to be a great advocate and partner in taking these strategies forward. Maybe most important is for the Parkway to begin preparing for the next generation of visitors and stewards. To do this he and his staff will focus on engagement and education. Officals are taking the long view on how to best protect the resources while promoting the economic connection to local communities.
Mark Woods speaks with passion about the Blue Ridge Parkway and its unique ecosystem. Those principles gleaned from the scout code are evident and sincere. Perhaps most apparent is his view that the Parkway an integral part of communities such as Alleghany County that lay along the spine of the southern Appalachian mountains.
For more information about Alleghany County’s role in the development of the Blue Ridge Parkway, click here
To watch the presentation in its entirety, click here