The pressures of modern traffic are forcing Shenandoah National Park officials to give Skyline Drive its first facelift since the scenic road was built 50 years ago.
"The road was built for a Model A car," said Robert R. Jacobsen, park superintendent. "Now 40,000-pound buses are traveling the Skyline Drive. And it's not holding up to the increased intensity of use.
"More than 2 million people travel the 105-mile road yearly."
How come the Skyline Drive was built in Virginia and so near Washington?
The answer lies in the quick wit and wisdom of a witticism in the form of a question.
The Great Depression was upon the land. It was a time of dire distress that only those who lived it--and that was nearly all of us then--can comprehend now.
People looked to the federal government as never before for relief. And that is why a group of officials gathered, or so I was told by a key member of the assembly.
He told the story to me years later. I had detoured over a segment of the Skyline Drive on the way back to Norfolk, where I heard the details from Sen. Harry F. Byrd, The Elder, whom by chance I ran into. I told him of enjoying the Skyline Drive.
"So you've been up in my country without reporting in at my place? You should know you are supposed to do that." It was a quip often uttered to a friend, old or new, by Sen. Byrd. And he meant it.
(Barry Goldwater recounted an incident of his days at Staunton Military Academy, illustrating the hospitality. He and another cadet, on a short vacation, had wandered, seeing the sights. Up the Valley and across the Blue Ridge, they stopped to admire a beautiful southern estate. The owner, older by a generation, strode up to the students, bid them welcome and invited them in for refreshments.
("Little did I even imagine then that some day I would sit in the United States Senate with him." And, he might have added, shared much in philosophy.)
But on with Sen. Byrd's recollection:
"Did you ever hear the story of why the Skyline Drive is in Virginia?" I had not.
"It was in the early days of the Roosevelt administration and we had gathered at the presidential camp (this was long before Camp David) after a day's tramping and riding over the terrain. (President Roosevelt of necessity rode.) We were sitting around the fireside and pondering projects to put people back to work.
"When someone suggested a scenic highway on the Blue Ridge the idea met with enthusiasm. Said the president:
"'That range of mountains runs all the way down to Georgia and Alabama and we can start it in New England!'
"'Franklin,' I said, for I was still calling him by his first name, 'don't you think we had better start it down near Washington where you and I can keep an eye on it?'
"'You are right, Harry!'--you see he still was calling me 'Harry,' this before he called me other names--'and I'll have Harold (Ickes) start on it Monday morning.'"
And that's the how and why of the Skyline Drive's being where it is. To build it took less time than that being projected for repair, which is 17 years, and at less cost--currently put at $70 million.
There are many beautiful views from the Skyline Drive, but none more foresighted than that of "Harry" half a century ago.