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County officials present to Blue Ridge Parkway Association

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Rebecca Walters, a summer intern with Franklin County, and county officials recently made a presentation to nearly 75 people at the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) Association’s fall meeting which was conducted through Zoom. The presentation was titled “Interactive Story-Maps: A New Technology for Experiencing the Blue Ridge Parkway: A Franklin County, Virginia Case Study.”

Walters, a Virginia Tech student working on her undergraduate degree in geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), used her expertise with story-maps to make the presentation along with David Rotenizer, Franklin County tourism director, and Eric Schmidt, Franklin County Geographic Information Systems coordinator.

Other presenters at the meeting included representatives from the National Park Service, North Carolina, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. A special welcome was given to Tracey Swartout who addressed the group as the new National Park Service superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rotenizer explained Arc-GIS Story-Maps as “a relatively new technology platform for destination marketing through development of a digital experience based on a specific place or area.”

“Having an intern on board to help us drill deep into our Parkway assets was great,” Rotenizer said. Whether from the air using EagleView or on foot, the Franklin County trio was able to learn a lot about the county’s Blue Ridge Parkway treasures.

With EagleView, people can see more images than with just Google Earth. EagleView is a technology provider of aerial imagery, data analytics and GIS solutions which uses 3D aerial measurement software.

Actual boots on the ground bring Blue Ridge Parkway treasures even closer to being experienced. Walters and Rotenizer walked about six miles on the parkway due to a closure for road repairs. Rotenizer said he was glad for the walk and gained a better appreciation for the parkway. “It changed my whole view on the parkway and forced me to see things I would otherwise never see,” he noted.

In addition to story-mapping as a drawing card to experience Franklin County’s presence on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Walters helped collect GPS coordinates for mile posts within and near Franklin County so they could be documented to enhance public safety with 9-1-1 calls by providing a specific point of reference.

In its 469-mile length, the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through 29 counties in North Carolina and Virginia. There are 275 overlooks along the parkway, of which Franklin County is host to six. They are as follows: Slings Gap, Bull Run Knob, Cahas Knob, Devils Backbone, Pine Spur and Smart View (which accesses the 500 acre Smart View Recreation Area).

Rotenizer said he’s been with Fanklin County for nearly seven years, and one thing about the parkway’s footprint in the county (2,615 acres) which he’s always pondered was the large swath of land north of the Smart View Recreation Area. Why did it exist?

He challenged Walters to help add clarity to the matter and was immensely pleased with how she worked to meet the challenge.

The large tract north of Smart View Recreation Area – which currently is host to the Pine Spur Overlook—is the site of the proposed Pine Spur Recreation Area. It had been planned for development as an African American recreation area complete with camping, cabins, picnic areas, softball field, playground, coffee shop and horse shoe pits. Evidently partial construction began in 1941, but activities were curtailed due to World War II. Racial integration negated the need for a separate facility. There appears to have been later interest in developing the tract, but nothing materialized.

As the county’s tourism director, Rotenizer has a passion for helping people experience the area in new and unique ways. After learning more about the Pine Spur Recreation Area, he said, “Despite the fact a dedicated African American recreation area was never constructed, the proposed action is worthy for consideration as an element for inclusion into a Franklin County African American heritage trail network in conjunction with Mary Bethune Park in Rocky Mount, the Booker T. Washington National Monument in the Hardy community, five Rosenwald School locations, among other assets.”

The presentation by Walters, Rotenizer and Schmidt on using story-maps to experience the parkway was well received by the Blue Ridge Parkway Association as was evidenced in the meetings “Chat” comments. Carolyn Ward said, “What a terrific resource!” Other comments included, “Inspiring! Amazing info! Fascinating!”

Schmidt said using GIS with story-mapping helps to promote the parkway in Franklin County. “It certainly raises awareness of what’s out there. I think it will encourage usage because it highlights things to do and gives people a glimpse of what they might be able to see,” he said. “People will see how the parkway is still a connector between different communities in Appalachia. They’re not going to make great time, but they’ll have a great time.”

Rotenizer added, “The Blue Ridge Parkway is an exciting and dynamic resource in our backyard – part of America’s best idea (the National Park System).”

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