‘Dear Naturalist’ is a weekly column devoted to the most
commonly asked questions on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The season has officially started on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The visitor centers are busy, the campgrounds smell of roasting hotdogs and s’mores, and, of course, the Fire Pink flowers are in bloom.
The season also began with many questions being raised by park visitors. In the following column, I’ll attempt to answer two of these questions along with information on guided hikes and programs where you can learn more.
When will the rhododendron be in bloom?
The time at which the three native types of rhododendrons will bloom is dependent on weather and elevation. Parkway botanist Lillian McElrath explains, “The rhododendron on the tops of the mountains will bloom later than those down in the valleys. It’s colder up there.”
With that said, all bloom times are relative. In general, Punctatum rhododendron typically blooms in early May. Catawba rhododendron blooms in early June. Rosebay rhododendron should bloom in early July.
The mild winter, late snow and early very warm summer seems to have disrupted the typical bloom times, however. The Catawbas are already past bloom even at the higher elevations of the parkway on Grandfather Mountain.
At this rate, I expect the Rosebay to bloom their light pink flowers around Blowing Rock in mid-June.
Blue Ridge Parkway rangers hold wildflower walks and other hikes nearly every week on trails all along the parkway. The public is invited to attend these hikes and all of them are free of cost. Stay up-to-date on these ranger activities through the Take a Note section of The Mountain Times, or you can call (828) 295-6308 for more information.
Why is the park service not mowing the grass along the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The thousands of visitors who drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway over Memorial Day Weekend all noticed that the parkway is looking a bit shabby compared to what it is normally like.
The parkway was designed as a “manicured landscape.” The parkway’s constructors built a road that was meant to ride through manipulated scenic beauty of mowed grass, carefully placed and planted rhododendrons, and picturesque overlooks.
Things have grown up a little since the 1930s and ’40s, when much of this work was done, but should it really look this wild? No.
The tall grass is, tragically, an outcome of a park service fatality on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mowing operations have been halted by the National Park Service at all its locations since May 14, one week after a riding mower carrying 63-year-old Dana Bruce tumbled off a 140-foot embankment on the parkway near Asheville.
Bruce was killed in the accident and, as a precaution, officials mandated actions be taken at all the sites to prevent similar incidents.
Parkway maintenance workers are undergoing new training and learning new safety protocols. As of this week, they were given the go-ahead to use weed-eaters and small, push lawnmowers.
The parkway’s deputy superintendent, Monika Mayr, said that park officials are questioning if mowing should ever continue on the more steep embankments and roadsides.
However, for the most part, mowing should resume in most areas of the parkway in the next few weeks.
Ask Ranger Amy
If you have a question about the Blue Ridge Parkway or its flora and fauna, please email (firstname.lastname@example.org) All of your questions will be answered. Two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!
Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina.