This chapter describes the environment of theBlue Ridge Parkway. It focuses on the naturaland cultural resources, visual resources,visitor experience, traffic and transportation,park operations, and socioeconomics thatmay be affected by actions proposed in thealternatives. This chapter does not provide anexhaustive description of these resources; butrather enough detail to understand theimpacts of implementing the alternatives.These “impact topics” were selected on thebasis of federal law, regulations, executiveorders, NPS expertise, and concernsexpressed by other agencies or members of the public during project scoping. Thesedescriptions of the parkway environmentestablish the basis for the impact analysis in“Chapter 4: Environmental Consequences.”During scoping, the planning team conducteda preliminary analysis of resources todetermine the context, duration, and intensityof effects that the alternatives may have on theparkway environment. If the magnitude of effects was determined to be negligible orminor, then there is no potential forsubstantial impact and further impact analysisis unnecessary. Therefore, the resource wasdismissed as an impact topic. However, if resource effects are greater than a minor levelof intensity, then the impact topic wasretained for detailed analysis. This chapterdescribes the impact topics that have beenretained and analyzed in detail in chapter 4.Please refer to the impact topics section at theend of chapter 1 for a summary of impacttopics retained or dismissed and anexplanation for why certain impact topicswere eliminated from detained analysis.The effects of climate change on the parkwayenvironment is also included as part of theintroduction of this chapter.
To understand future trends in the conditionof the parkway environment, a summary of projected regional climate changes and theirpotential influences on the parkwayenvironment and visitor experience isprovided. Rather than incorporate thesepotential effects throughout the variousimpact topics discussed in this chapter, thefollowing provides a synopsis.According to the Environmental ProtectionAgency (2001), the climate of the Mid-AtlanticRegion of the United States is anticipated tobecome warmer and perhaps wetter, resultingin a wide range of impacts on plants, wildlife,and people over the next century. Climatemodels indicate that the southeastern states of the U.S. (including Virginia and NorthCarolina) may be one of the hardest hit areasin the U.S. from the effects of climate change.These models project continued temperatureincreases in all seasons throughout thesoutheast, with an increase in the rate of warming through the end of this century.Models indicate that average temperatures inthe southeastern U.S. are expected to rise 4.5to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2080s, with theprojected increase depending on variousscenarios of carbon dioxide emission levelsbetween now and then (USCCRP 2009). Thenumber of very hot days each year is alsoexpected to rise. Precipitation is estimated toincrease by 15% in winter and spring and by agreater amount over the summer. Morevariability is also likely, resulting in extremeweather events and more frequent droughts(IPCC 2007b). This includes an anticipatedincrease in the severity of Atlantic hurricanesin this region (i.e., increases in peak windspeeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surgestrength and height) (USCCRP 2009).These types of projected changes areimportant, because climate is a dominantfactor affecting the physical and ecologicalprocesses of the Blue Ridge Parkway and theAppalachian Highlands as a whole. For