What I didn't know was the members of the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass band that has toured with famed banjoist/comedian Steve Martin and singer Edie Brickell, didn't just pick the name of that song out of a hat. They had grown up near Graveyard Fields, a mountaintop valley at 5,100 feet elevation on the Parkway that was so named because the wind-torn tree stumps, covered in moss and vines, looked from a distance like a great, ancient graveyard -- or so the story goes, anyway. They visited there as youngsters, hiked across the valley, picnicked there with their families and as grownup performers found themselves still drawn to the place.
This is a familiar story for many Blue Ridge Parkway visitors -- they first visited as children, kept on coming back for years, brought their children with them when they became adults and remain attracted to the utterly immense beauty of those dramatic views, the sometimes challenging trails and the sense of wonder the Parkway offers.
That's the way it is with Carolyn Ward, the CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, a private foundation that serves as the official fundraising partner of the National Park Service's Blue Ridge Parkway. Ward heard about the song and quickly contacted the Steep Canyon Rangers to see if they could help publicize the campaign to make improvements at the Graveyard Fields site. The Parkway's list of improvements includes:
- Expansion of the overlook parking area from 17 spaces to 40 spaces.
- Placement of a new three-unit, ADA compliant vault toilet restroom facility constructed adjacent to the parking area.
- Improvements to US Forest Service trails that include installing boardwalk, constructing check dams, improving drainage, closing non-system trails, and modifying boardwalk sections to fit new design features.
- Installation of a new trail map at trailhead and four additional interpretive signs on the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail.
- Reducing the speed limit in the area and eliminating parking along the road shoulder.
|Paul Bonesteel, left, filming the Steep Canyon Rangers at Graveyard Fields|
The Steep Canyon Rangers were glad to help. Soon they were before the cameras of filmmaker Paul Bonesteel, a member of the Foundation's advisory panel and a highly accomplished documentary maker. The result is a first-rate, seven-minute video that can be found here.
So if you're looking for a way to help the Steep Canyon Rangers and thousands of other fans of the Blue Ridge Parkway to keep the 469-mile Parkway in good shape, here's your chance. Contact the Blue Ridge Parkway and make a contribution to the Graveyard Fields project, or to the Foundation generally. They'll put the money to good use.
There's something else: if you like what the Steep Canyon Rangers are doing and would like to hear them live in a beautiful Blue Ridge amphitheater, make plans now to attend their concert at the Blue Ridge Music Center near Milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Galax on October 11. You can contact the Blue Ridge Music Center -- also operated by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation -- here or you can go straight to the Ranger's concert page here. You'll be glad you did.