The large water wheel that is the focal point of the Blue Ridge Parkway attraction Mabry Mill will be missing over the winter when it is removed and sent to a National Park Service “preservation workshop” in North Carolina for much needed rehabilitation and repair.
The water buckets of the wheel are rotting and leaking and the wheel badly needs overall repair, as does the flume that carries water to the wheel of the historic landmark that is one of the most photographed places on the Parkway.
Repairs are expected to cost $51,000 and about half of what is needed to pay the bill has been raised by the Parkway Foundation says chief executive Carolyn Ward.
Repairing the wheel is phase one of a two-step project to keep the mill functioning, Ward says. Phase two will include repairing the flume and dredging silt from the mill pond.
The foundation is still waiting for estimates on phase two and will start raising money for that.
Ed Mabry built the in 1910 and ran it with his wife until 1935. After the Parkway was built it became a favorite attraction on the Parkway and the restaurant remains one of the few remaining “on parkway” eateries at a time when several food spots — including Doughton Park and Otter Creek — have closed from a lack of available contract vendors.
While overall traffic on the Parkway is down, the mill still attracts about 50,000 visitors a year. The Parkway is the third most visited national park but funding cuts have left the 469 mile system with a $500 million backlog of deferred maintenance projects. Federal budget sequestration this year left a number of park facilities closed, including the Rocky Knob visitor’s center and Smart View picnic area in Floyd County.
For years, the mill was the backdrop for television and magazine ads for Salem cigarettes.
If all goes according to plan, the water wheel repairs will be competed and it will be back on the mill by the time the Parkway opens for its Spring and Summer Season next year.