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Work Day Scheduled To Prevent Another Blue Ridge Parkway Crack

8:53 AM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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A large crack has opened in the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Tanbark Tunnel at Milepost 374.5. Bill Sanders/wsanders@citizen-times.com / /wsanders@citizen-times.com

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (ACT) - There might be one slight silver lining to the infamous "Blue Ridge Parkway crack" after all.

While construction crews work to build a temporary bypass through a section of the parkway that closed when a large crack formed, parkway staff are taking the opportunity to do other road maintenance without interference from motor vehicle traffic.

The crack that appeared on the parkway just north of Tanbark Tunnel north of Asheville has kept the parkway closed to motorists since July 12. The crack, which had become something of a tourist attraction, was about 6 inches wide, several feet deep and 300 feet long, closing a 20-mile stretch of road between Bull Gap at Milepost 376 and Milepost 355 near Mount Mitchell State Park.

While the parkway is closed, the nonprofit Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway will hold a work day Saturday, along the closed section of road to clean a rock-lined ditch that feeds water into the culvert system in order divert it from the road.

According to engineers, the crack and eroding slope are likely the result of this summer's record-level amounts of rains, and a failed culvert.

"The engineers are trying to get to the root cause of the problem and reopen the parkway in time for the fall color season, and we want to do whatever we can to help," said Dan Wells, chairman of the Asheville Chapter of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which works to protect and preserve the parkway through education and service projects.

The National Park Service had asked Wells and the Asheville Friends chapter to help clean one of the rock-lined ditches along the closed section of the parkway. Wells, who is a retired engineer, is leading the work day starting at 9 a.m. at Bull Gap.

"We spent the spring getting Pisgah Campground ready for visitors," Wells said. "It's one of the most visited campgrounds on the parkway, which means that it gets a lot of wear and tear, but that's taking a back seat to this. If the flow of water is not managed, the parkway will continue to experience road failure as we have seen in Western North Carolina this year due to the excessive rainfall."

Wells expects a strong showing of volunteers will complete the ditch cleaning project in one day.

Mike Molling, chief of maintenance on the parkway, said his goal is for the closed section the parkway to be open by Aug. 31.

"We'd like to get it open sooner, but our goal is to have it open by Labor Day weekend," Molling said.

The parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park Service, with 15.2 million visitors in 2012. October is usually the single busiest month of the year, with about 2 million visitors.

As soon as the fall leaf-peeping traffic is through, Molling said the road will close again throughout the winter so a permanent fix can be completed.

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