At least $35 million headed to Smokies for southern Foothills Parkway overhauls and maintenance facilities improvements

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grsm_terrain_features.jpgThe crest of the Smokies and its peaks are shown from Look Rock on the Foothills Parkway.  National Park Service

Southern stretch of Foothills Parkway to get $33 million overhaul

The National Park Service will repave and improve the entire southern stretch of Foothills Parkway and design a replacement of the outdated maintenance facilities at Sugarlands thanks to funding from the Great American Outdoors Act.

Both projects will cost a combined $40 million and be paid for via a foundation established as part of the overall legislation passed by Congress in 2020. 

The Department of the Interior will spend a total of $1.6 billion from the Legacy Restoration Fund this year alone as part of a long-range goal to improve infrastructure and catch up on maintenance needs in national parks and other federally managed lands, according to a release. National public lands across the country, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, have long faced maintenance deficits totaling billions of dollars. 

The Foothills Parkway and Sugarlands work is one of 165 deferred maintenance projects that will be funded this year. Infrastructure improvements are also planned for sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park.

The $33.6 million in planned improvements to the parkway between Walland and Tallassee (from mile marker 55 to 72) will include enhanced safety features and milling and replacement of the pavement.

“The road rehabilitation will include pullouts and parking areas, replacing steel backed timber guardrail, and repair, reconstruction and repointing of stone masonry bridge parapet walls and the walls along Look Rock Overlook,” according to interior department documents.

“Other work will include removing and resetting stone curb, replacing/repairing of the drainage structures, stabilizing roadside ditches, overlaying or reconstructing paved waterways, stabilizing and reseeding the shoulder, installing pavement markings, replacing regulatory and NPS signs, and constructing ramps with curb cuts to provide access to interpretive panels and to meet federal accessibility guidelines.”

“The work proposed in this project would reduce the hazards and improve safety for park visitors and employees,” according to the data sheet. 

The Legacy Restoration Fund will also cover the $3.5 million cost of a design/build plan to improve and update the expansive and deteriorating maintenance yard at Sugarlands.

“The buildings, driveways, and parking areas associated with the maintenance yard have not been renovated or rehabilitated in decades,” according to a data sheet.

“There are safety hazards, inadequate space or capacity for park maintenance and operations personnel, and facilities that are entirely insufficient for essential park operations and maintenance. The condition of many buildings is so poor that replacement and disposal is likely the only practical option. This project will complete predesign project programming and budgeting and develop a Design Build RFP for the rehabilitation or replacement of facilities and associated utilities, parking, and grounds.” 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting additional information on possible future projects and to what extent national infrastructure plans proposed by the Biden administration might benefit the park, which is the most-visited in the nation.

Here’s a link to the full Department of the Interior Legacy Fund release. Here are the Foothills Parkway and Sugarlands maintenance yard project data sheets.

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