Lake Junaluska, N.C. – Lake Junaluska announced that Mark Woods, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, will serve as Grand Marshal for Lake Junaluska’s Independence Day Parade. The theme for the parade is “This Land is Our Land: Celebrating Our National Parks.”
Woods, who lives at Lake Junaluska, is retiring this year and the Independence Day Celebration at Lake Junaluska will be his last official function in office.
“Mark Woods was a natural fit for this year’s Grand Marshal,” said Jack Ewing, executive director of Lake Junaluska, “Between the theme, his decades of work for the National Parks Service and his personal connection to Lake Junaluska, there was no one more deserving of the title.”
Woods said that he chose to retire after nearly 40 years of service to spend more time with his friends and family. He will spend a good part of that time at Lake Junaluska, where Woods moved with his wife in 2015.
“I married into Lake Junaluska,” Woods said. “My wife’s grandfather and his wife bought a house at Lake Junaluska in the 1930s and it has remained in the family. My wife has been coming here her entire life and we have been coming here together for more than 30 years.”
Woods said Independence Day has always been a special time for his family. Every year for over 50 years, the family has gathered in the original house bought by his wife’s grandparents for a family reunion with five generations.
This year, Woods will ride in the Independence Day Parade accompanied by his wife’s 93-year-old aunt, Elizabeth McDonald. McDonald moved to Lake Junaluska in 1930 at the age of 6. She spent summers learning to swim, working for the local Lake Junaluska newspaper, singing in the choir and watching fireworks over the lake every Fourth of July. She said she was completely shocked that Woods invited her to join him in the Grand Marshal convertible for the parade.
“Lake Junaluska is home base for me and for my children. When you grow up in parsonages you’re moving all the time,” McDonald said. “I’m honored to be included. Lake Junaluska means the world to me and to my family.”
Woods has worked for the National Park Service since 1980, and he has served as superintendent of various parks for the past 27 years. His work has taken him to national parks throughout the country, including a stint in the Virgin Islands National Park and one as the superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
Woods took over as the superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway in September of 2013, and he said the job has proven to be a unique and exciting challenge for him. The size and scope of the Parkway, which is part of 29 counties and two states, also includes nine congressional members. Facilities, resources and personnel are spread out, which can make communication a challenge.
“The parkway is a unique and complex unit of the National Park System because it spans 469 miles,” Woods said. “There are 1,200 miles of boundary, 910 maintained roadside vistas and 14 visitor centers. It’s a seven hour trip to make it to the northernmost office.”
The communication challenge hasn’t hindered progress during Woods’ tenure, however. When he first took over in 2013, he said that one third of all their facilities were closed and now, four years later, the majority of those have been re-opened.
Another exciting change that has occurred under his leadership is the addition of more than 5,300 acres to the area surrounding Water Rock Knob. This land now serves to protect 10 rare plant species, a spruce-fir forest and the Carolina flying squirrel which is only found in the Southern Appalachians. The acreage became part of the Parkway in 2016 during the 100 year Anniversary for the National Park Service in 2016 and was the largest addition to the parkway in living memory.
As Woods prepares to retire, he said perhaps what he is most proud of is the overall impact National Parks have on the people who visit them.
“Working with the community is something I really enjoy,” Woods said. “The educational value of the parks is amazing. From history to natural and cultural resources— I describe them as universities without walls. There really is something for everyone.”
Everyone is invited to see Woods in the Independence Day Parade at Lake Junaluska on July 4th, or to have a float in the parade. The Independence Day Celebration is a family-friendly event with all kinds of floats represented.
The parade begins at 11 a.m. at Lambuth Inn and proceeds along North Lakeshore Drive to the Nanci Weldon Memorial Gym.
Floats in the parade will be decorated according to the theme and the décor at the picnic will also give a nod to the national parks.
“These events allow us to come together as family, friends, community and nation,” Woods said. “That is important and speaks to who we are as a nation. I like the focus on and celebration of history.”
Lake Junaluska is a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body. For more information about Lake Junaluska programs and events, visit www.lakejunaluska.com.