NC State University || College of Design
Design Research & Extension Program
 ::  home  ::  projects  ::  Visual Sensitivity

Visual Sensitivity Mapping of Blue Ridge Parkway Viewsheds
Principal Investigators:
John Fels
James Tomlinson
Michael Holmes


Project Sponsors:
Blue Ridge Parkway Division of the National Park Service
Phillip L. Van Every Foundation
Bluementhal Foundation
Broyhill Family Foundation
Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most celebrated works of modern American landscape architecture. The Parkway is also an important economic stimulus for the Southern Appalachian region, attracting over 2 million visits annually. The scenic value of the Parkway, however, is now threatened by the largely uncontrolled development of surrounding lands, often in full view of the narrow Parkway corridor. As a prerequisite to any attempt to preserve the scenic resources of the Parkway, it is necessary to identify adjacent lands visually impacting the Parkway and to determine degrees of potential impact throughout the surrounding landscape.

Saddle Mountain, North Carolina:
Saddle Mountain, North Carolina:
Visual Sensitivity Overlain on 3D Terrain Model

Asheville, North Carolina: Visual Sensitivity Overlain on USGS Topographic Maps
Asheville, North Carolina: Visual Sensitivity Overlain on USGS Topographic Maps

In cooperation with the Blue Ridge Parkway Division of the National Park Service, the Design Research Center at the School of Design, North Carolina State University, has conducted a series of studies to determine the location, extent, and degree of sensitivity of lands visible from the Parkway. Using digital terrain modeling methods, maps of cumulative visual sensitivity were produced for several of the more threatened Parkway sections. These maps were developed from both unweighted and distance-weighted visual sensitivity models. To better portray the location of visually-sensitive lands, these maps were then digitally overlain on scanned topographic maps. In addition, visual sensitivity maps were combined with three-dimensional terrain models to produced computer-animated renderings of the landscape. The use of advanced computer modeling and visualization techniques have produced specific information about the location and relative importance of adjacent scenic lands, providing a spatial framework for formulating conservation strategies and allowing the Blue Ridge Parkway to assume a more proactive role in the preservation of critical scenic resources.