Julie Whalen of FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge with the license plate. Courtesy of Whalen.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., seeks to secure enough pre-registrations to launch a specialty Virginia license plate to fund its operations. ( Read more in Cardinal News’ story, “Want a Blue Ridge Parkway license plate? Here’s how.”) 

We wish them luck in their worthy goal to bring more resources to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a place that remains special to us. At the same time, we want to remind Virginians that the Roanoke-based FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge worked from 1988 to 2020 to enhance the Parkway and, since 2021, expanded to enrich the quality of life in nearby communities through our own, newly updated, specialty license plate. 

Thanks to the more than 10,000 Virginia motorists who have purchased our iconic plate – in addition to our 1,500 members and 750 volunteers in chapters from Waynesboro to Galax and beyond – we commit ourselves daily “to preserve, promote and enhance the outstanding natural beauty, ecological vitality, and cultural distinctiveness of the Blue Ridge region.”

Since 2021 here in Virginia, we have invested our specialty license plate funds as follows:

  • We designated $100,000 to finish the funding of three community playgrounds: a natural playground at the Blue Ridge Children’s Museum in Waynesboro; a nature-themed playground at Explore Park in Roanoke; and the Britni Discovery Park for special needs children in Hillsville. 
  • We made a $20,000 contribution to the National Park Service to fund enhancements along the Parkway in Virginia … and we plan to give more. 
  • We held seven free summer concerts at Explore Park in Roanoke, featuring a host of popular and up-and-coming Appalachian musicians. 
  • In Hillsville, we are assisting a community group in the restoration of the historic Sidna Allen House; likewise in Floyd on the Roberson Mill.
  • We partnered with other Blue Ridge organizations to showcase their mission, such as the Junior Appalachian Musicians (aka JAM), which we presented in an hour-long show in May on Blue Ridge PBS (now available on YouTube at buzz4good.com/episodes). 
  • We volunteered at Roanoke’s Blue Ridge Marathon and the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge, helping ensure the safety of the thousands of athletes visiting our region to compete. 
  • We sponsored and promoted a variety of community events such as the Smoke on the Mountain BBQ festival in Galax.
  • Our volunteers continue to participate in the National Park Service’s Volunteers-In Parks (VIP) program on the Parkway.
  • We will soon resume hosting day hikes to share the experience of the outdoors with children, and Alternative Spring Breaks for colleges such as the University of Notre Dame, Boston University, North Carolina State, and Western Carolina University. 
  • And in the spring we will launch a new college scholarship program that invests $16,000 per year in at least eight students pursuing degrees in environmental science and cultural studies. 

On behalf of FRIENDS, I thank our legion of Virginia motorists who have supported our mission over the years through our speciality license plate. We look forward to continuing to invest our license plate funds right here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Order your plate today by visiting a DMV location near you or online at https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/vehicles/#splates/info.asp?idnm=BRP.

The FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge license plate. Courtesy of the group.

Julie Whalen is executive director of FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge, which is based in Roanoke.