The 1987 dedication of the "Missing Link" in "America's Most Scenic Road" added another landmark to the Parkway, then and now, the most visited unit of the National Park Service. The groundbreaking, mountainside-defying, cantilevered span on Grandfather Mountain has become the quintessential image of the Blue Ridge Parkway, seen on everything from television car commercials to postcards.
The 1987 opening of this controversial, long-awaited, 10.5-mile portion of the Parkway was an instant favorite of many because of the viaduct. The first public motorists were startled by the way the viaduct leaps away from the mountain and soars within feet of rocks and trees offering unobstructed views of the Carolina Piedmont.
"Our goal for this bridge," says Gary Johnson, a now-retired Parkway landscape architect who worked on the Grandfather Mountain section, "was to have it look like it had been there for a century - to look like it had almost grown out of the mountain."
The complex, S-shaped, undulating balcony across the side of Grandfather Mountain cost $8,000 a foot for its 1,243 feet. Each of the viaduct's 153, 50-ton segments were cast to exactly abut the next segment. Each was lowered out over the elongating end of the viaduct, then epoxied into place and torsioned with internal cables. The American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the viaduct the "Civil Engineering Achievement of Merit."
The bridge is located in the Boone Area heart of the North Carolina High Country at Milepost 304 on the 469-mile route.
This part of the Parkway near Grandfather Mountain took decades to finish because choosing the route involved a stand-off between the National Park Service and Grandfather Mountain attraction owner Hugh Morton. The disagreement ended amicably, and the viaduct was the result.
"Looking back," Gary Johnson says, "we never realized how iconic this part of the Parkway would become. Sometimes things just happen when they're ready. This part of the Parkway almost seems predestined to have turned out for the best."
By parking at the Linn Cove Visitor Center, at Milepost 304.4, walkers can take a paved wheelchair-accessible path a hundred yards to look up beneath the high-tech bridge. Take the Tanawha Trail farther over more rugged terrain and it is one-half mile to the postcard view of the viaduct, reached by a short side trail to a rocky perch. The round-trip is one mile.
Another great viewpoint on the Tanawha Trail that flanks the Parkway is available at Rough Ridge, Milepost 302. 8. The trail's boardwalk vantage point is not far from the Parkway and provides spectacular views that include the viaduct clinging to the mountainside.