A group of supporters attended an event at the site of Blue Ridge Heritage Inc. near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Plans progressing for
Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc.
By Nancy Lindsey
Blue Ridge Heritage Inc. has hired an architectural firm to create a master site plan, model and artists' rendering for the Blue Ridge Cultural Education Center, Steve Swartz told the Patrick County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Aug. 13.
The facility will include a visitor center with space for classes, demonstrations, rotating exhibits, and a network of hiking trails in the Rock Castle Gorge and Rocky Knob areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Swartz said.
"It's dedicated to the idea that the culture of the Blue Ridge is worth preserving," Swartz said, adding that the planned facility does not include a restaurant or hotel.
A 2007 marketing study and survey of parkway visitors asked "what the traveling public would like to see" in a facility, Swartz said, and came up with the response "mountain living skills and agriculture."
The existing education center is located on 31 acres that BRHI has acquired just off the parkway, which includes a house, farm building and pond, Swartz said.
Several projects and programs are underway, including efforts to restore the American Chestnut tree, Swartz said. Fourteen hybrid trees are currently growing on the site.
The BRHI project grew out of a partnership between Patrick and Floyd Counties about 30 years ago which was known as the "Rocky Knob project."
"We've spent 10 years getting to the point where we can say we're getting ready to start," Swartz said.
The board of directors is composed of citizens from both counties, he said.
EDA member Glenn Roycroft asked Swartz if the organization plans to pattern itself after other similar cultural heritage programs.
Swartz said some of those include fixed exhibits, while "ours is constantly changing."
Ferrum College has a lot of "rolling exhibits," Roycroft said.
"We're looking at potential partners," Swartz said.
He said the organization wants to take advantage of the proximity of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the tourism it generates.
"There's a river of traffic flowing by on the parkway, and we want to peel some of that off," Swartz said.
The next step will be a capital fund-raising project to make the model a reality, he said.
Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss, board chairman and a member of the EDA, said, "We fight every year to get funding" for the BRHI. Both Floyd and Patrick Counties make a contribution to keep the organization alive.
"It's always been a great idea," Weiss said. "If some elections had gone different it would already be built."
Former Congressman Rick Boucher worked with the organization from the beginning and helped get grants to keep it going.
"I appreciate what you're doing," Weiss told Swartz. "I know it don't pay, and you've spent a lot of your life on it--10 or 12 years."
In another matter at the Aug. 13 meeting, the EDA voted unanimously to elect Dale Puckett as chairman, Bill Clark as vice chairman, and Brenda Roberson as secretary.