Located at Milepost 384 (about a mile south of the U.S. 70 intersection, 8 miles southeast of downtown Asheville) the Parkway Visitor Center opened in 2008, unveiling its innovative, high-tech interactive exhibits. They have free wi-fi!
This is the first National Park Service visitor center in the country to offer an I-Wall, a 22-foot interactive map of the entire Parkway which provides multi-media information on places to visit on and near the Parkway. The Visitor Center is operated by the National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. The Center’s exhibits highlight the natural and cultural diversity, economic traditions and recreational opportunities found in Western North Carolina and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The center also houses a 70-seat theater, information and orientation services and book sales area.
The building itself reflects the cutting edge of energy saving technology. Constructed to LEED certification standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), it features active/passive heating and cooling, radiant floor heating, a “green” roof and other energy efficient features. According to Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Philip Francis, “We are excited that in addition to orienting visitors to the region and Parkway, the structure exemplifies natural resources stewardship for the long term.”
The theater’s main attraction is a new movie “The Blue Ridge Parkway-America’s Favorite Journey.” Shown hourly in high-definition surround sound, the 24-minute film captures a father-daughter trip along the motor road that incorporates history and the region’s contemporary sights and sounds. In 2008, the film received a prestigious international award of excellence, the “Platinum Best of Show” Aurora Award.
Hours of operation are from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Admission free. Call them at 828-298-5330 for more info. Nearby is the Folk Art Center.
In January 2009, the Destination Visitor Center for the Blue Ridge Parkway attained LEED Gold status in a rating that acknowledges the building's design exceeds the standard for high energy efficiency. In certifying the Visitor Center's compliance with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards at Gold level, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded the maximum 10 points for energy efficiency.
The USGBC also awarded an additional point for besting the 60 percent standard for energy savings: The project tracked a 75 percent improvement when compared with performance for a comparable conventional building, according to Lord, Aeck & Sargent, the architecture firm that designed the center.
The center, completed in January 2008, includes a 10,000-square-foot green roof that was seeded with drought-tolerant native plants, hydronic radiant-heated flooring, a high-efficiency HVAC system with an energy recovery unit and daylight harvesting with a lighting system that is expected to reduce lighting loads by 78 percent.
Among the more visually striking features are the 13 passive solar Trombe walls that stand in a sawtooth formation on the south facade. Lord, Aeck & Sargent said the Trombe walls represent the design team's most innovative strategy.
Designers worked with Pennsylvania State University's Applied Research Laboratory to construct a high-tech computational fluid dynamics model to study air flow and heat transfer for the walls. Named for French designer Felix Trombe, such walls are designed to absorb solar heat and release it to the interior of a building.
At the center, the sun heats air space that's sandwiched between the glass wall facing the exterior and an inner concrete wall. The heat is transferred into the building via vents. The Trombe walls help insulate and warm the building in the winter and cool it in the summer.
Among the Parkway Visitor Center's other sustainable design strategies and products are:
- An HVAC system that uses an energy recovery unit to transfer heat from air exhausted out of the building to air entering the building in the winter. In the summer, the energy recovery unit pulls moisture out of the air that enters the building. This technology will result in significant energy use reduction throughout the life of the building.
- Hydronic radiant heated flooring
- A 10,000-square-foot green roof, 100 percent of which is planted with native, drought tolerant plants
- Photo sensors that turn on the lights only when there is not enough natural light
- Occupancy sensors that ensure lights are turned off when no one is occupying the offices in the Destination Center
- Operable windows in the offices and the exhibit hall
- A storm water runoff system that captures rainwater in two different ways. The first is a cistern to capture water for use on site, and the second is directing water from the parking lots into a bioswale from which it is then filtered and seeps into the groundwater.
- Zero VOC paint and sealants