The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and the National Park Service will host a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m., Thursday, Aug. 25, celebrating exhibit enhancements that educate visitors about the fragility of the high-elevation ecosystem and a lithium battery donation that allows for more efficient storage and use of solar energy at Waterrock Knob Visitor Center at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“This is a very special place, both for natural and scenic value, but also for its incredibly rich cultural history as the ancestral homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for generations,” said Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Tracy Swartout. “Investing in these special places is critical to make sure they can be preserved for many more generations to come.”
In 2021, the Blue Ridge Parkway welcomed 15.9 million visitors, and Waterrock Knob is among the most popular destinations for outdoor recreation and sightseeing in the park. This year, the Foundation is marking 25 years of support for the national park. One of the nonprofit’s first projects was the construction of the visitor center at Waterrock Knob.
“Through donor support, the site of a carport at Waterrock Knob became the location for a new Visitor Center,” said Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. “The commitment to this hub for travelers continues to this day with improvements that enrich visitors’ experiences and sustain the building’s operations.”
The interactive exhibits highlight many creatures that call the peak and surrounding acres home, from black bears to bugs and buds. Funded by donations to the Foundation, the engaging illustrated panels and displays also give viewers insights on how they can be good stewards of the rare flora and fauna found at this site.
A 12-foot mural illustrates a multi-seasonal look at the plants and wildlife found at this 6,293-foot peak, as well as the striking geological features of the brightly colored rock formations found on nearby cliffs. In both Cherokee syllabary and English, another panel tells the Cherokee story of “How the World was Made,” which describes the buzzard creating the peaks and valleys with its wings. An interactive element encourages visitors to peel back a layer of a fallen tree to see the many insects that make use of its nutrients.
The designs were a collaboration between National Park Service interpretive staff and David Williams of Wingin’ It Works, which specializes in exhibits, murals and scientific illustration. Joe Bistany of BistanyWorks provided fabrication and technical assistance.
The event will also celebrate a new corporate partnership between RELiON Battery and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. RELiON, a lithium battery manufacturer based in Charlotte, recently donated batteries for the solar power upgrades at the visitor center to be implemented this year. Through their global initiative, Limitless Blue, the company focuses on using business as a force for good and donates 1% of net revenue annually through its 1% for the Planet business membership.
“We are proud to support the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and the work they do to preserve and protect the natural beauty of the Parkway. This partnership is a natural fit with our core values. We, along with our customers, live and breathe adventure and relish the opportunities that our planet provides,” said RELiON Founder Paul Hecimovich.
Waterrock Knob Visitor Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 30 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Oct. 31 through Nov. 13.
To learn more about the Foundation’s work to enhance the Parkway, visit BRPFoundation.org.
- Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation release