Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
The Rocky Knob Cabins were damaged in a February ice storm and will not reopen any earlier than July.
Roanoke Times|File 2008
Mabry Mill is popular tourist attraction along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan.
Friday, April 26, 2013
When Mabry Mill opens for the season Wednesday, water will still rush over the old water wheel, tourists will still take photographs and buckwheat pancakes will still be on the menu.
Some things will be different, however, and those changes have brought some challenges to one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s most beloved sites.
The nearby Rocky Knob Cabins will be closed due to storm damage and will not open until July, if at all this year. Mabry Mill’s current operator is in the final year of a concessions contract with the National Park Service and has not decided whether to bid on a new 10-year contract. Traffic along the parkway has dropped precipitously in the past decade, even near Mabry Mill, one of the most-visited sites.
Plus, the Rocky Knob Visitor Center, located nine miles north of the mill, is closed due to federal budget cuts caused by sequestration.
All told, the winter of 2013 was not kind to the parkway.
“We need some positive news for the parkway,” said Karen Radcliff, whose company, Sally Mae’s LLC, operates the mill’s attractions and the Rocky Knob Cabins.
The re-opening of the mill for its May-to-October season is certainly good news for parkway travelers, who elbow their way for the best photo spots and still pack the Floyd County attraction’s cozy restaurant.
Radcliff said that visitors can expect an enhanced menu, which will include an item called the J.E.B. Stuart baked chicken, named in honor of the Patrick County-born Confederate cavalry general — who was far from being a chicken, but that’s another story.
The restaurant added Franklin County-made Homestead Creamery ice cream a couple of years ago (“a big hit,” Radcliff said) and might begin offering milkshakes this season. The restaurant will offer more takeout options, Radcliff said.
“We’re going to increase our entrees,” said Radcliff. “People don’t just come for breakfast, they come to eat in the restaurant all day,” she said. “They love the chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes — all of it. We’re going to do our best to give people lots of good choices.”
Travelers won’t be able to stay at the rustic cabins for a while, however. A February ice storm brought down trees and limbs, which damaged the manager’s cabin. None of the seven cabins will open until repairs are completed. Radcliff said that park service officials should know by the end of May whether those repairs will be completed in time for the cabins to open this summer.
The cabins were built by the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps around 1935. They are equipped with sinks, refrigerators and stoves, but no bathrooms or other amenities such as telephones or cellular service.
“They really are for people who want to get away from it all,” Radcliff said.
Radcliff’s company took over management of the mill and cabins two years ago when a previous concessionaire opted not to renew its contract. Radcliff is in the final year of her contract and she has not decided if she will submit a bid on a new 10-year deal before the June 13 deadline.
“We hope we get to stay, but we’ll see what happens,” she said.
Radcliff has operated several tourist-related businesses near the parkway, especially in North Carolina. Her company recently took over operations at the Northwest Trading Post near milepost 259 in Ashe County, N.C.
Even if Sally Mae’s LLC does not submit a contract bid, a new operator will almost certainly be found in time for 2014, said Laura Nelson, a concessions specialist with the park service.
“We have heard from several companies interested in bidding on Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob Cabins,” said Nelson, who was at Mabry Mill earlier this month, showing the site to prospective bidders.
Mabry Mill continues to be a popular spot for visitors, even though parkway traffic has dropped in the area. According to NPS statistics, traffic in the vicinity of the parkway’s intersection with U.S. 58 at Meadows of Dan, which is about a mile and a half from the mill, has dropped by half since the 1990s.
Still, from when the rhododendrons bloom until the autumn leaves fall, Radcliff knows that the mill’s parking lot will be packed more often than not.
“The tourists will come,” she said. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep them coming.”
Weather JournalIcy mix moves in this Sunday AM