Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: The Craggy Gardens visitor’s center on the Blue Ridge Parkway is much visited. I heard 500 people a day. But there is no water on site. Due to a malfunctioning or broken water system, the bathrooms have been closed since at least last July. I think the women’s bathroom was closed first due to a walkway that was falling apart. Then all water was lost and bathrooms closed around mid-July. They have 8-12 portable toilets there instead, I think. That’s got to be expensive, thought me. Go ahead and just fix the bathrooms. No idea how much portable toilets cost. The National Park Service may own their own potties, or have a “deal” where they pay less (or geez, their deal may mean they pay more since it’s the government). What are they paying for these? And when will the bathrooms be fixed? And why is it taking so long?
My answer: Once again, this is where Depends prove to be a lifesaver. I never go hiking without them … and no one likes to hike behind me for some reason.
Real answer: The Blue Ridge Parkway folks are well aware of the problem, and it’s an expensive one. Parkway spokesperson Leesa Brandon said, “Estimates for a full replacement of the water system at Craggy Gardens are in excess of $2 million.”
Let’s look at some history first.
“That section of the parkway is one of the earliest constructed of the entire 469-mile route, the water system in that area dates back to the early 1950s, and the current Visitor Center building was constructed as part of Mission 66, a mid-1960s program to expand visitor services and ‘modernize’ park facilities across the country,” Brandon said via email.
Welp, thanks for making me feel real old, as I was born in the mid-60s, and I’m almost 60 years old now. In short, that’s a lot of wear and tear.
The Craggy Gardens water system is also an unusual one, in that it’s situated on a mountain ridge, and repairs can be complex.
“Park staff began working to locate a leak in the system last summer, and unfortunately the leak was not found prior to freezing temperatures in the area,” Brandon said. “Part of winterizing the park means turning water systems off in high elevation locations that are only open seasonally, and this is the case at Craggy Gardens.”
Located about 20 miles north of Asheville on the parkway, Craggy Gardens has an elevation of about 5,500 feet, and it offers some of the best views along the scenic road.
“Once the temperatures warm this spring and we have water flowing through the system again, we will pick up where we left off, locate the leak, and work to repair that section of the system,” Brandon said.
Complicating all of this even further, Brandon said, repeated vandalism to the water system in 2022 “forced the park to take the water system offline, requiring operators to undergo a time-consuming system startup and disinfection process.”
“We will continue to address repairs as needed,” Brandon said.
With that full replacement coming in at $2 million, you can rent a lot of portable toilets in the meantime. The NPS does rent the portable toilets at Craggy, but Brandon did not have details on cost or where they rent from.
I called Griffin Waste Services in Asheville, and the person answering the phone said generally speaking a basic portable toilet costs $107.55 for 28 days. So eight a month would run about $860 a month, or roughly $10,000 a year.
That’s all ballpark, of course.
Brandon also noted that more improvements are coming to Craggy Gardens.
“We are also in the early planning phases of a full rehabilitation of the Craggy Visitor Center building,” Brandon said. “Construction is still a few years out, but we are all interested in seeing the site cared for properly and a new generation of visitors having opportunities to fall in love with this area too.”
Question: Did you — or were you allowed to — bring questions you had in the bank from the Citizen Times to your new gig at Asheville Watchdog? And have the types of questions you get changed much?
My answer: I’m going to take the Fifth and Sixth amendments here. I shall remain silent until I speak with my attorney, and by that I mean when I retain an attorney and after I look up what the Sixth Amendment actually covers.
Real answer: OK, first of all, the Sixth amendment covers the rights of criminal defendants, including “the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you,” according to Cornell Law School. The Fifth Amendment, as most of us know, says the government can’t force people to provide incriminating information about themselves.
So to sort of answer the question, the Citizen Times’s editors never really said anything to me about this aspect of my departure, so I did bring a few questions over. As the newspaper is still doing a Q&A, I have tried not to duplicate questions, though.
As far as the types of questions I get, I’d say they’re about the same. Generally, folks want to know what’s going on with places or businesses they frequent, what types of developments might be coming, what the local black bears are up to, what’s legal and illegal in North Carolina, why certain road problems exist, what’s happening at the Biltmore Estate and Mission Hospital, and why Ingles gas prices vary so much from one geographic location to the next.
Also, at least one of my “frequent fliers” has continued to ask a lot of great questions, and another is splitting time between me and the paper. Hey, he’s got a certain number of questions in mind he wants to get answered.
But overall, I’m in good shape with your queries, and find I learn some new things myself from them. So keep ‘em coming!
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941.