Unbuilt Doughton Park

Group Picnic in Doughton Park (1954)

Doughton Park, located at Parkway milepost 240, is the largest recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Originally named Bluff Park, it takes up 7,000 acres of forest and meadows surrounding the Parkway in Alleghany and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina. Most known for the Bluffs Lodge and the Brinegar and Caudill cabins, Doughton Park also has miles of hiking trails and campgrounds for visiting families.


But, the modern Doughton Park did not always look this way. Since its conception in 1934, the Park has undergone a dramatic transformation from what Parkway Resident Landscape Architect and Superintendent, Stanley Abbott, originally had in mind.

After the National Park Service (NPS) acquired 5,410.3 acres of land in Alleghany and Wilkes counties in 1937, Abbott began planning the ultimate recreation area.[1] In response to the Great Depression, the development of the Blue Ridge Parkway was meant to increase tourism in western highlands of North Carolina to improve its economy.[2] Doughton Park, then called Bluff Park, was part of this plan. Abbott and Assistant Superintendent Sam Weems called for a man-made lake and beach in Basin Cove, a swimming pool, golf course, coffee shop, road works, campgrounds, and vacation cabins.[3] In order to build these facilities, Civilian Conservation Corps camp NP-21 was established inside Bluff Park in September 1937.[4] Once construction began however, only the campgrounds and road works proved to be practical to complete. The more glamorous proposals were not brought up again.

[Insert two PDFs uploaded to Sakai: “Memorandum to Mr. Abbott” and “Weems Recreation Survey”]

The Early Bluff Park

An Example of Segregated Facilities at Bluffs Parks

Like most of the National Park Service in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Bluff Park was segregated. While both white visitors and African Americans were allowed to use the “woods” picnic area, only whites were permitted to use more desirable “meadows” picnic area. This discrimination caused some conflict, and there is record of an incident in July 1941 when a group of African-Americans from Winston Salem demanded that they be allowed to use the picnic area in the meadows.[5] Not wanting to alienate the African-American market, Abbott asked his assistant, R.G. Hall, to begin drawing up a “Negro Master Plan” to build a new set of facilities to be used by blacks only.[6] These plans never came to fruition due to the stoppage of construction during World War II and the desegregation of the NPS after the war’s end.

Interior Double Room at Bluffs Lodge (1952)

Stimulated by the post-World War II economic surge, the NPS began to invest in expanded concessions and visitor facilities to meet the needs of the growing numbers of park visitors. Starting with an expansion to the existing campgrounds, the NPS also built a new gas station and coffee shop to accommodate guests.

However, the most impressive feature to come out of this time period was the Bluffs Lodge. Opened in 1949, Bluffs Lodge included 24 rooms, miles of hiking trails, and a centralized fire pit meant to encourage visitor interaction.[7] After many years of being managed by the National Parks Concessions, ownership of the lodge later passed to Forever Resorts, which ran the Lodge until 2011 when it closed because of budget restrictions.

The “Extreme Isolation” of Caudill Cabin

In order to increase the allure of the Parkway, the NPS sought to interpret the local Appalachian culture. Along with the Brinegar Cabin, which was included in the original 1937 land purchase, the NPS acquired the Caudill Cabin to “dramatically illustrate the extreme isolation of the mountain folk” to visitors.[8]

While no active interpretation would be done at either site until 1957, a massive restoration effort was launched in early 1941 to ensure each site’s longevity. Sixteen years later Chatham Manufacturing Company (CMC) was given a one-year permit to give weaving demonstrations at Brinegar Cabin. Interpretation expanded in 1962 when CMC started selling pottery, dolls, and blankets.  CMC terminated its contract in 1970. The NPS did a second restoration of the cabins in 1975, and although you can still visit the cabins today there is little to no interpretation.[9] The NPS has not been able to find a new company to take up the concessions permit and provide interpretation.

Mission 66 to the Present Day

Beginning with its 1953 renaming from Bluffs to Doughton Park, in honor of North Carolina Congressman, and Parkway advocate Robert L. Doughton, the park again had the opportunity for change due to the start of Mission 66. Proposed by NPS Director Conrad Wirth in 1956, Mission 66 was an effort to improve the state of visitor facilities in the National Parks in time for the NPS’s 50th anniversary in 1966.[10] In Doughton Park this manifested itself in the “Mission 66 Proposals,” presented in 1960 by then Parkway Superintendent Sam Weems.

[Insert PDF uploaded to Sakai: “Leroy Skillman Master Plan”]

Again with the goal of strengthening the highlands-area tourist trade, these plans called for a large number of renovations at Doughton Park. They included a 75-room expansion to Bluffs Lodge, two restaurants, a second entrance, improved road works, and a visitor’s center.[11]

But these plans were not built for a number of different reasons. Protests from the local tourist industry and bureaucratic debates tabled the plans for expansion. Topographical restrictions eliminated the possibility of a second entrance and most of the new road works, while design disagreements between Weems and other NPS architects killed the visitor’s center.

Two Women Sit on the Overlook Wall at Wildcat Rocks (1950)

The final effort to alter the landscape of Doughton Park, headed by Chief Ranger Kenneth R. Ashley, came in 1969. With more than 5,000 acres of minimally touched wilderness, the backwoods of Doughton Park qualified to be made a National Wilderness by the recently passed Wilderness Act. Ashley advised NPS superintendent Granville B. Liles to have the backcountry be protected by the Act. In the end, Ashley’s advice was not heeded, as NPS Director George B. Hartzog issued an edict stating that Doughton Park would not be considered for wilderness protection, thus ending the matter.[12]

Conclusion: The Future

When Doughton Park was originally proposed and during Mission 66, the creators of the park had many paths to choose from.  Their decisions affected the way we experience Doughton Park today. Now, as it was in the past, the future of Doughton Park is uncertain. Since 1969 Doughton Park has been in an elongated phase of atrophy. The CMC terminated their weaving contracts in 1970 and volunteers were only able to provide interpretive services until 1983. The area continued to suffer from a declining tourism trade until Forever Resorts terminated their contract with Bluffs Lodge in 2011, closing both the lodge and the coffee shop.[13] Then Superintendent Phil Francis was unable to find someone willing to take up the contract because, due to the decreased tourist traffic, it would not be profitable. Unfortunately, the NPS continues to lack money due to government cutbacks, a problem exacerbated by sequestration and the government shutdown in 2013. Speaking during the government shutdown of 2013, Mr. Francis stated that the NPS needs to find a way to bring the tourists back to the Parkway.[14] This would increase the number of visitors to the Western Highlands, boosting the local economy and potentially saving Doughton Park.

The Rolling Grasslands of Doughton Park (20th Century)

[1] Richard Quinn, “Blue Ridge Parkway HAER Report No. NC-42,” Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1997, pp. 232-233.

[2] Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006), 14.

[3] Sam Weems, “North Carolina Recreation Survey Bluff Park-Blue Ridge Parkway,” 1939, Blue Ridge Parkway Archives, Asheville, NC.

[4] Quinn, “Blue Ridge Parkway HAER Report,” 233.

[5] Ibid., 234.

[6] R. G. Hall, “Memorandum for Mr. Abbott,” December 22, 1939, Blue Ridge Parkway Archives, Asheville, NC.

[7] Quinn, “Blue Ridge Parkway HAER Report,” 236-237.

[8] Ibid., 236.

[9] Ibid., 238, 240.

[10] Ethan Carr, Mission 66 : Modernism and the National Park Dilemma (Amherst:  University of Massachusetts Press In association with Library of American Landscape History, 2007).

[11] Edward Abbuehl, et.al, “Doughton Park Central Development Study,” 1960, Blue Ridge Parkway Archives. Asheville, NC.

[12] Quinn, “Blue Ridge Parkway HAER Report,” 239-240.

[13] “Doughton Park Closures Announced,” Journal Patriot, May 10, 2013, http://www.journalpatriot.com/news/article_63faeb3c-b99f-11e2-90f1-0019bb30f31a.html.

[14] Phil Francis, History 671 Class Lecture, UNC-Chapel Hill, October 9, 2013.