The Blue Ridge Parkway has drawn visitors to the mountains since construction began under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now, after nearly 80 years, conflicting visions for the route\u2019s future have sparked debate over how generations to come will enjoy the country\u2019s most visited national park unit.\r\n\r\nLast fall, the National Park Service released a draft of the general management plan that will guide the parkway for the next 25 years. The draft outlined three different options for the parkway\u2019s future \u2013 two that would change management practices and one that wouldn\u2019t.\r\n\r\nThe park service\u2019s preferred option describes the parkway as a \u201ctraditional, self-contained scenic recreational driving experience.\u201d It also seeks to enhance connections with surrounding communities and expand outdoor activities.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe preferred alternative focuses on managing the parkway as it has always been managed,\u201d said Blue Ridge Parkway Community Planner Dawn Godwin. \u201cIt allows for some changes, but there won\u2019t be any wholesale change in the parkway.\u201d\r\n\r\nBut some outdoor enthusiasts and residents who want the parkway to embrace more human-powered activities and connections with local communities say the park service\u2019s preferred option is the wrong choice.\r\n\r\nCycling was the most contentious issue, Godwin said.\r\n\r\nThe Virginia Bicycling Federation argued that \u201cmotorized vehicles should not be the only way promoted to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway.\u201d They urged citizens to ask the parkway to \u201cpromote bicycling, walking and other non-motorized forms of transportation as an integral part of the Parkway\u2019s mission.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe park service has been responsive to community comments, Godwin said. \u201cWe decided\u2026to make sure the plan is clear we won\u2019t prohibit uses that currently exist.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe management plan also allows for developing new trails and connecting old ones to communities along the parkway, Godwin said.\r\n\r\nSome parkway enthusiasts worry that rising gas prices and waning youth interest could relegate the parkway to a relic enjoyed only by elderly vacationers.\r\n\r\nVisitors to the parkway have dropped by one-third in the past decade, down to 15.3 million last year. Only 12 percent of last year\u2019s parkway visitors were children.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe sun may be setting on the driving experience as recreation,\u201d said Anne Whisnant, author of Super Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Park History. Instead of driving, Whisnant said, the park should emphasize connections with towns and outdoor opportunity.\r\n\r\nBut Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis said he thinks these challenges can be met.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf the economy does well and people are able to earn a respectable living, I don\u2019t know how much of an effect gas prices will have on tourism,\u201d Francis said.\r\n\r\nThe parkway is a relatively cheap vacation. The park doesn\u2019t charge a fee for use. According to Francis, the biggest challenge is continuing to care for resources along the parkway despite a declining staff and budget.\r\n\r\n\u201cPartner groups and local communities are essential to the parkway\u2019s future,\u201d he said.