George Ivey, the author of the novel Up River, will quickly tell you that the Blue Ridge Parkway has been a part of his life and an inspiration to him since childhood. He grew up only two miles from the Parkway and frequently trained as a cyclist there. As a teenager, he worked as a busboy at the Pisgah Inn located on the Parkway near Mount Pisgah. In 2004, he cycled the entire length of the Parkway in eight days.
Since graduating from Duke University in 1991, Ivey has been continually involved in various aspects of conservation work. He worked for N.C. Sen. Terry Sanford researching environmental issues and then worked for eight years for The Nature Conservancy. He is a consultant and fundraiser with a particular concern for farmland preservation in western North Carolina and for preserving farmland view sheds along the Parkway. For example, he’s working with the farmers of the Bethel community in Haywood County, which includes the now-famous Cold Mountain just off the Parkway.
For his first novel, Ivey has drawn on many years of experience working to preserve and protect rivers and watersheds in the Appalachian Mountains. The subtitle of Ivey’s novel sets the stage for a fascinating look at the complexities of environmental work in a community.
As the story opens, Peter Bailey, a young environmentalist from Charleston, S.C., arrives in a mountain town ready to rescue a struggling river. Almost immediately he encounters obstacles. Local farmers fear new restrictions on their farming practices. One resident, Earl Patton, keeps the heat on Bailey with vicious letters to the editor. The little community is known as “the home of the rainbows,” and fishermen distrust Bailey’s plans to eliminate rainbow trout from parts of the river in order to encourage the native brown trout to thrive. The town’s curtain-making industry works to keep Bailey under its watchful eye. The one environmental group does little in the way of practical assistance.
Ivey keeps the plot moving as Bailey juggles his personal challenges with the challenge of restoring a river. We watch him negotiating relationships with two women and facing real threats from his enemies, as well as raising questions about the realities of the restoration work to which he is devoting his life. Bailey grows during the course of the novel, coming to appreciate the insights of local residents and finding workable solutions for the health of the river.
There are sections that read a bit more like the journal entries of an environmental scientist, but because Ivey brings his characters to life, the reader will find such intricacies a fascinating and a necessary part of the plot.
Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History by Anne Mitchell Whisnant (University of North Carolina Press, 2006)
If it took more than 50 years to complete the Parkway, then surely a book detailing all the struggles and challenges involved with its completion seems just as impressive. Rather than settling for a trite overview of the Parkway as a godsend for tourism, Whisnant goes “beyond the concrete” and delves into the complex—and often contentious—political landscape that federal, state and local officials had to navigate to make the Parkway a reality. Whisnant’s critical study debunks some of the myths that can gloss over a project of this magnitude, and yet she’s careful enough not to lose the reader in a laurel hell of facts and figures.
When the Parkway Came by Anne Mitchell Whisnant and David E. Whisnant (John F. Blair, 2009)
Finally, young people have an age-appropriate book for learning about the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Inspired by a 1937 letter from a Blue Ridge mountain farmer to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the story details how one of America’s most beloved roads was built and how some families had to sacrifice losing their land so the road might be enjoyed by future generations. With its historic photographs and engaging narrative, this book is sure to become a wonderful resource for teachers and parents.
Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Journey by J. Scott Graham and Elizabeth C. Hunter (J. S. Graham, 2003)
This first-ever coffee-table book on the Blue Ridge Parkway offers amazing photographs and stories in a 12-inch by 12-inch format. In addition to its color images are historic photographs on the Parkway’s construction. Also available through the Parkway’s Foundation and put together by this talented tandem is a handsome and fact-filled guidebook, Traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway, which includes helpful maps, inspiring images, and handy information for any would-be Parkway traveler. Graham also has wonderful Parkway calendars on sale at your local bookstore.
Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway: The Ultimate Travel Guide to America’s Most Popular Scenic Roadway by Randy Johnson (Falcon, 2003)
If the open road calls, why not savor the song of the sylvan path? This invaluable book has all the information you need to enjoy some of the best hiking in the Southern Appalachians accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Humpback Rocks, Crabtree Falls, the James River, and Peaks of Otter in Virginia to Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge, Mt. Mitchell and Craggy Gardens in North Carolina. This book offers both day-hikes and simple “leg-stretchers” along with topo maps, trail information, and directions to nearby visitor centers, craft shops, museums and Parkway facilities.