Though Hurricane Irma weakened on Monday morning to a tropical storm, Blue Ridge Parkway officials decided to close the roadway south of the Virginia line through Tuesday in anticipation of heavy winds and rains.
Officials planned to close the scenic route through the North Carolina mountains by 2 p.m. Monday, leaving commuters in the Asheville area who routinely use the parkway on the eastern edge of town between mile posts 375 and 393 to look other ways between work and home.
All parkway facilities, including the five North Carolina campgrounds, visitor centers and picnic areas, closed at noon today and will remain closed for at least 24 hours, officials said.
On Monday, at his morning briefing about emergency response plans to Irma, Gov. Roy Cooper cautioned about the potential for high winds, possible flooding and rock or mud slides in the western part of the state.
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The parkway, which winds through the mountains with breathtaking views, contains a wide range of elevations, from about 2,200 feet in Asheville to more than 6,600 feet at Mount Mitchell State Park.
In May and July, there were two major rock slides near Mount Pisgah and Craggy Gardens.
Cooper said Monday morning that wildfires that blazed through regions of western North Carolina last year left the land more vulnerable to mud and rock slides as Irma brings rain and wind.
On the eastern end of the state, ferry operations out of Fort Fisher and Southport were suspended Monday because of “high winds and tides.”
The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro also announced Monday that it will be closed on Tuesday in anticipation of expected damage from the storm. Animals have been moved to “safe, secure quarters,” according to zoo administrators.