by Kent Anderson
page four





In the late 1950's and early 1960's a minister from Winston-Salem, North Carolina named Kenneth Wilson devised an enormous plan of developed properties on Groundhog Mountain situated on the border between Patrick and Carroll counties, Virginia. His original scheme called for 4,000 residential units, 300 of which would have been condominiums. Two golf courses, a ski slope, and other recreational activities were also planned for this resort community. To his credit, Wilson designed the Groundhog Mountain community in the style of a Swiss canton, making the new architecture fairly compatible with the surrounding mountainside (Photo 22). The property he acquired originally belonged to the Quesinberry family. Part of this land had one of the old easements purchased by the state of Virginia in the late 1930's and then deeded to the Parkway which allowed a direct access road (near Station 1275) onto the Parkway and across, connecting with state road 608. Today the grand dream of Ken Wilson remains largely unrealized. There are approximately only 180 units constructed with several of those being double tiered. There are another 30 to 40 undeveloped lots. The number of year-long residents of Groundhog is just under 15. Despite the fall of Wilson's expectations of the Groundhog community, the recent events in the history of the development have formed a significant chapter in the history of the Parkway.1

The National Park Service viewed Groundhog Mountain as creating a dangerous traffic hazard at the single access road leading to the expanding community. Therefore, in 1973 the NPS constructed a new access road into Groundhog Mountain (50 feet south of the initial road) and then began converting the original access road into an underpass which would pass beneath the Parkway. The underpass (or overpass as it was often called, depending on one's perspective) was completed in mid-1974 (Photo 9) and did not provide direct access to Groundhog Mountain. The residents of the new community presumed that the second access road built (Photo 10) merely took the place of the original while the Park Service fully intended the second road it built to be temporary, established primarily to provide access while the underpass was being constructed. 2

The NPS believed that it had the legal right to construct the underpass based on the 1961 Act affecting the Parkway (quoted in Chapter Two). It also thought it could close the newer access road based on the 1938 order of Interior Secretary Ickes which disallowed the construction of any new permanent access roads to the Parkway. During this time, in the mid-1970's, few of the residents of Groundhog and nearby affected inholders were aware of the "temporary" nature of the newer access road. Also at this time it was becoming more apparent that Groundhog Mountain might become an economic bust. The original investors had declared bankruptcy and the Small Business Administration was negotiating a loan for new investors. The SBA requested that the Park Service keep open the then only direct access road for at least ten years which the NPS declined to permit. It was becoming fast apparent after this decision to the local residents that, in their view, the future of the resort community was in jeopardy. The Park Service's underpass forced traffic to proceed along parallel road 608, a poorly maintained dirt road, and go nearly two miles out of the way if it were not for the substitute direct access road.

On December 20, 1976 the intent of the Park Service was made clear to all. On that day a sign was posted by the NPS at the direct access road:

This Temporary Access Road Will Be
Permanently Closed On or After
December 31, 1977

At that point the inhabitants of the Groundhog Mountain community, both full-time residents and the others, became mobilized against what they felt as a threat to their homes, and, in the process of suing and fighting the Park Service, alerted a host of older inholders along the Parkway to a new thrust of land acquisition by the National Park Service.3

In the course of litigation against the Park Service, the Groundhog development corporation was joined by the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and a curious alliance started to form between the newer residents of Groundhog Mountain and the inholders who had lived alongside the Parkway for generations. For many years the Groundhog inholders were disliked and shunned by many of the older residents as "outsiders." The Groundhog community was populated by a number of Floridians who lived there only a few months of the year. Florida law allowed a resident to live in the state only one day more than six months which enabled many of the elderly and retired inhabitants to move to "second" homes in other states during the off-season, or hot summer months, and still maintain full Florida residency. To this day, there still exists deep bitterness toward Groundhog Mountain from some of the more established inholders, but during 1976-1977 many long-time residents watched the legal fight of Groundhog Mountain with increasingly less detachment.

On January 23, 1978 U. S. District Court Judge James C. Turk ruled in favor of the Park Service in their desire to close permanently the access road it had constructed in the early 1970's. The decision said that the underpass allowed for eventual access to the Parkway and direct access to road 608 for the Groundhog residents. The lawyers for the resort community filed for appeal on March 20, 1978. At the same time, the new Superintendent of the Parkway, Gary Everhardt, announced that the Park Service would go ahead and close the direct access road as allowed by the Court's decision despite the pending appeal of Groundhog Mountain and Patrick County. 4

The confrontation between Parkway officials and an outraged citizenry now appeared close at hand and it carried the threat of physical violence. A large contingent of Groundhog residents and a number of their supporters outside the community announced that they would place their bodies in front of the bulldozers scheduled to destroy the access road on April 17, 1978. Efforts by U. S. Senator Harry Byrd, Jr. and Congressman Dan Daniel got the Park Service to agree only to close the road, not bulldoze it. Still the protesting residents said they would prevent the road closing by the NPS. When April 17th arrived about 100 protestors stood in front of the access road for most of the day. At about 5:30 in the evening a large garbage truck rolled up and the ubiquitous Park Rangers unearthed five barricades from underneath the garbage and quickly put them in front of road. Just as quickly, several young people of the Parkway kicked over the barricades and proceeded to lay on the road. Wisely, Superintendent Everhardt had previously ordered his rangers to leave if confronted by the angry landowners and this order was obeyed as the rangers then withdrew. The following day Interior Secretary Cecil Amdrus cancelled the Park Service order to close the access road to Groundhog Mountain pending the outcome of the appeal. 5

The attorney for Patrick county and the Groundhog denizens, Robert Mann, argued the appeal of June 5, 1978, but the long process of judiciary appeal would not render a verdict until well into 1979. In the meantime, the Groundhog Mountain Incident (as it was coming to be called) had shocked a number of people up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Never had so many inholders threatened civil disobedience in order to halt a Park Service action. The confrontation alerted other inholders who may have lightly regarded the determination and intent of the Parkway when it resolved to carry out the specifics of what it believed to be its mandate. Additionally, the incident marked the beginning of a spirit of cooperation between many of the older and newer inholders. Present among the youth of the Blue Ridge who put their bodies on the road that April afternoon were some from families who had lived in the Mountains for generations as well as young people who had only recently moved to the area. The determination of the new coalition of inholders increased as 1978 wore on.

After Secretary Andrus announced formulation of a revised land acquisition policy in August, notice was given for public comment and participation to be concluded by September 20, 1978. A hearing was scheduled for the public to be held in Washington, D. C. September 15. There was no communication of this fact to the concerned inholders of the Parkway until the very last moment and even that occurred because of an accidental reading of the Federal Register, an uncommon document in the Southwestern counties of Virginia. with only a few days notice for comment to the National Park Service, the inholders faced a panicky situation. Had it not been for the fact that inholder Odell Webb worked for the Trailways bus lines and was able to charter a bus on such short notice, the NPS might never had heard from the people of the Blue Ridge. Many inholders and local political figures testified before NPS officials, but one particular comment might be used to typify the anger and intense feeling of the inholders. The secretary-treasurer of the Groundhog Mountain Property Owners, Roseann MacKenzie who had moved into the community as a full-time resident ended her appearance before the Park Service with this statement:

I am only second generation in this country. My parents came here because their homeland, their government took their property away. It wasn't the Blue Ridge Parkway and it wasn't a bureaucrat named Gary Everhardt or a political appointee like Cecil Andrus; their property was in Warsaw, Poland and it was a tyrant by the name of Joseph Stalin who took their property away. My father is dying of a slow death to see that his daughter's property is being taken by his Government.6

The appeal of Groundhog Mountain residents to retain direct access to the Parkway was decided on April 20, 1979, over a year after the protest. The appeals court ruled against the Park Service and in favor of the new community. A thorough examination of the original Quesinberry easement deed revealed a right of intersection or crossing of the Parkway "at grade" to connect to state road 608, a right of access which, of course, was legally transferable to all future heirs or owners of the land. The new access road was to remain open. The only course of action left to the NPS to close the road was condemnation, which is the course the government has last indicated that it intends to follow.

Thus, the Groundhog Mountain "incident" has yet to run its course. Condemnation would, of course, involve just compensation for the residents of the community, a price tag which could run into millions and millions of dollars; all for the purpose of closing an access road which the Parkway had deemed to be a hazardous crossing; in spite of the lack of evidence that traffic accidents-had occurred at that location. 7


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