The Blue Ridge Parkway: Big government even a conservative can love

A ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway is good for the soul, but can be a challenge to the conservative mind.
A ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway is good for the soul, but can be a challenge to the conservative mind. Keith Larson

It’s late-June steamy in Charlotte but refreshingly cool cruising a two-lane on two-wheels through an open-air tunnel of leafy green somewhere outside Little Switzerland on the way to Blowing Rock.

The 45-mile-an-hour curve around the mountain at 4,100 feet heading onto the Linn Cove Viaduct seems to float you off into a wispy cloud vaporizing in the morning sky.

Sunset on the vistas of Mount Mitchell the night before left you considering, in awesome wonder, all the worlds His hands have made.

A couple days on this gently rolling road are good for the soul, but on this most recent trip I found they can also be a challenge to the mind. For how is an honest conservative to enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Every motorcycle rider I know – and as a rider, I know many – loves the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most are conservative; often leaning libertarian. Something in loving liberty seems to lead to the two-wheels. The kind with a hundred horses between them, anyway.

My rides on the Parkway – even when I’ve had four wheels underneath – have always taken me far from daily life. Scenery shifting unblemished from mountains to valleys to streams to more mountains; rolling smoothly without semis or delivery vehicles or taxis; no bustling intersections – lets the mind wander far from things like politics.

But this time it wanders into thinking how the unblemished view is provided by the Parkway’s ban on billboards. The steady gentle roll is afforded by the prohibition on commercial traffic. A provision against commercial development prevents the shopping centers that draw crowds. And it hits you that the Blue Ridge Parkway you love is about as anti- the “Free Enterprise” you espouse as anything could be.

Then you start thinking about what it took to build “America’s Favorite Drive.”

It took taxpayer money, and tons of it. It took taking people’s land through eminent domain, displacing families, farmers, other businesses and Native Americans. Nearly half the Parkway’s 88,000 acres were obtained through government force and suspect “market value.”

It was a make-work project of the New Deal Democrat president to stimulate the economy by building 469-miles of road connecting two national parks. And it was a long way from “shovel ready.”

The project was run by at least four different government bureaucracies. It took the better part of six decades to complete. There were accidents. People died.

I’ve seen a few stabs taken at what it would cost to build today. The guessing gets to $5 billion pretty fast. That’s before the overruns.

It was a text-book Big Government Boondoggle in many ways, the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s nothing about its creation which classifies as limited-government, free-enterprise conservative.

If GuvCo today proposed to take billions of taxpayer dollars and displace thousands of people and businesses in a specious attempt to stimulate the economy and promote tourism by building hundreds of miles of 45-mile-an-hour road restricted from almost any capitalist application, I would surely be one of the loudest critics. Most motorcycle-riding conservatives would be right there with me.

Which gives me something to think about. And I will.

Some fine Saturday afternoon during Leaf-Changing Season.

Keith Larson can be heard weekdays 9 a.m. - Noon on WBT AM/FM.