The path of the Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the southern Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina, and this All-American Road bisects the Orchard tract. Joseph Hyde Pratt thought of a Blue Ridge Highway decades before today’s Parkway was built, and naturally started his ambitious project at Altapass. Eight miles of road were built before the project failed at the start of World War I. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Blue Ridge Parkway was begun; this product of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal provided much-needed jobs to the poverty-stricken mountain communities.
Building one of the nation’s most scenic parkways required seizures of many tracts of privately owned property by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The process was contentious and expensive. In many places along the 469 miles of road linking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Parkway could afford only narrow strips, opening up much of the adjacent property for development. For the route through the present-day Orchard, North Carolina condemned 73 acres and the 1500 apple trees growing there.
Nevertheless, this 52-year construction project has become the most visited park in the US National Park System, and has preserved thousands of acres of stunning mountain scenery and wildlife habitats. Early morning visitors along the Parkway near the Orchard may be enchanted to see a cloud “waterfall” gently whooshing down McKinney Gap. Seasons bring color changes, both extreme and subtle; clouds and
sun play hide and seek; stunning sunrises hearken the new day … the Parkway displays ever-changing delights for the traveler’s eye.