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Parcel Prioritization for the Blue Ridge Parkway's Scenic Conservation Effort, Watauga County, NC
Principal Investigators:
John Fels
James Tomlinson
Michael Holmes


Project Sponsor:
The Conservation Trust of North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's most precious scenic resources. The scenic value of the Parkway, however, is now threatened by the uncontrolled development of surrounding lands, often in full view of the narrow Parkway corridor. As efforts are being made to conserve this scenic resource, the necessity for a prioritizing strategy has become apparent. This strategy / framework will provide critical information to help promote effective and efficient use of limited conservation resources.

This research initiative was developed a prototypical framework for prioritizing land parcels for conservation efforts along the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor. Though the extent of the study area was limited to Watauga County, North Carolina, the utility of this framework is applicable to the entire 469 mile corridor. Watauga County land records and Blue Ridge Parkway Visual Sensitivity Maps (developed in a previous study) were used to prioritized parcels for conservation based on:

1) Land Value per Acre
2) Real Value per Acre
3) Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score
4) Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score vs. Real Value

Results from this project were displayed graphically in a series of maps and in the form of a tabular spreadsheet. These products will be used to help make conservation decisions relating to the individual parcel as well as help develop conservation strategies at the county and regional level. Knowing a parcel's visual significance in relation to its relative cost will provide the necessary framework for effective and efficient use of limited conservation resources.

Land Value per Acre
Tax accessed land values and parcel acreage from the county land records were used to create a map that displays Land Value per Acre. This map indicates general trends relating to variation of land value within the study area. These general trends are:

  1) Land is generally less expensive in the northeastern portion of the study area. This can be attributed to greater development pressure related to the areas major municipalities, Boone and Blowing Rock, which are located in the central and western portion of the study area.
2) The parcels that front a major road have higher assessed land values than those parcels that have limited vehicular access.
3) Slope of the land impacts land value dramatically. Throughout the entire study area, parcels that a have steep slopes are generally less expensive than those parcels that have less dramatic slopes.

The data used for land value were the county's accessed tax value of the land. They should be regarded as relative values, and are dramatically less than current market values.

land value per acreland value per acre key
Land Value per Acre - The darker hues indicate parcels with greater land value/acre.

Real Value per Acre Tax accessed real values and parcel acreage from the county land records were used to create a map that displays Real Value per Acre. Watauga County land records define the real value of a parcel as equal to the sum of that parcel's land value and building value. This is significant because conservation easement / acquisitions can include a parcel's land and the associated buildings. Results from this map are most appropriately used to compare and contrast two potential conservation sites, and to assist in determining the most efficient way of structuring a conservation agreement (to include the entire parcel with existing buildings or include only a proportion of the parcel).

real value per acre real value per acre table
Real Value per Acre - The darker hues indicate parcels with greater real value/ acre.

Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score
The issue of scenic conservation relates directly to the question, "What land can be seen, and to what extent?" Visually sensitive land is defined as that land that can be seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Visual sensitivity maps that were weighted for both duration and proximity of view were developed in a previous study. (CLICK HERE for additional information) The Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score map was developed by averaging visual sensitivity scores over the entire parcel. This map prioritizes parcels relative to their potential visual significance to the Parkway. In the study area there were _____ parcels that had an extreme visual sensitivity score (shown in red). This parcel list will provide the focus needed for a proactive conservation effort with in Watauga County.

average visual sensitivityaverage visual sensitivity key
Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score

Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score vs. Real Value
When the outright purchase of land or the purchase of a scenic conservation easement is the conservation strategy being considered, it is critical to know at which locations conservation dollars can most effectively be spent. (How much viewshed do you get for your money?) This Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score vs. Real Value map indicates a parcel visual significance relative to it accessed value. The darker hues in this map indicate the parcels that potentially have the most scenic significance for the least cost.

average vs real scoreaverage vs real score table
Averaged Visual Sensitivity Score vs. Real Value - The darker hues indicate parcels providing "more viewshed for the money".

Additional thanks to:
Understanding Systems, Inc.
Watauga County Tax Administrator's Office
Watauga County Planning Department