The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Feds reopen plans for long-delayed 9-mile Foothills Parkway segment from Wears Valley to Gatlinburg near Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Plans for new parkway segment were hatched long ago; project would also include improvements to Wears Valley park entrance

Just a few years after the “Missing Link” of the Foothills Parkway was finally finished following decades-long delays, the National Park Service now has its sights set on constructing a new 10-mile section of parkway on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that would extend from Wears Valley to the heavily traveled Gatlinburg Spur.

The leg of the roadway has long been included in a plan for full completion of the parkway. About 30 miles have been completed from Tallassee, Tennessee to Wears Valley. This section would extend from the current parkway terminus in Wears Valley to the Gatlinburg Spur near Pigeon Forge.

Park officials said in a press release announcing the opening of the project’s public comment period that the unfinished section is the only stretch of incomplete, congressionally approved roadway in the U.S. 

The new section cut through the mountains would ostensibly allow travelers to bypass the crowded Pigeon Forge commercial strip en route to Gatlinburg or the Sugarlands area of the park near the over-mountain section of U.S. 441 to Cherokee, North Carolina.

Much of the parkway’s corridor beyond the actual road, however, will preserve native forests, or provide good opportunities for land acquisition by nonprofit groups or individuals in the name of conservation and protection of the parkway’s viewshed.

The plan also includes a reroute and improvement of the narrow road that enters the national park at Metcalf Bottoms, which includes an infamous one-lane bridge and on occasion has caused things to get real in the picnic area.

This story will be updated, but in the meantime here’s the full statement on both projects from the National Park Service: 

"The National Park Service (NPS) is seeking public input concerning the proposed construction of the next section of the Foothills Parkway and access improvements between Wears Valley and the Metcalf Bottoms area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A virtual public meeting will be held on October 14 and comments may be submitted through from October 1 through October 31. 

The new proposed Foothills Parkway section, 8D, would extend the parkway for 9.8 miles from Wears Valley to the Spur near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This proposed action would provide direct access to one of the primary entrances to the park. In addition, the NPS is seeking comments about developing better access to the Metcalf Bottoms area to address safety concerns along Wear Cove Gap Road, improve the overall visitor experience, and protect park resources. Both these efforts could alleviate existing and future motor vehicle congestion to complement overall visitor access and traffic flow on the Tennessee side of the Park. 

“We are pleased to offer this opportunity to inform the public about the planning process and to receive input on these important projects,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “With growing visitation trends, considering these improvements is imperative in helping assure safe vehicle access to the park.”  

The civic engagement public comment period for the proposed projects is open from October 1 through October 31 and includes opportunities to submit written comments and participate in a virtual public meeting. The information obtained during this civic engagement period will be used to identify and refine the design elements and alternatives under consideration. 

A virtual public meeting to discuss the proposed projects and answer any questions about the process will take place on Thursday, October 14, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (ET). During the first 30 minutes of the meeting, the NPS will present an overview of the proposed actions with the remainder of the meeting reserved for a question-and-answer session.  

Participants are advised to join the meeting five to ten minutes early to test audio and internet connections. Additionally, participants are welcome to call in on listen-only mode, and not view the presentation, by dialing (312) 626-6799 and entering Webinar ID 856 4513 5682.  

The NPS will also accept written comments regarding the proposed projects online or by postal mail. Comments may be submitted:

  • Online (the preferred method) at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/Section8D. Select “Open for Comment” on the left menu bar, open the Foothills Parkway Section 8D/Metcalf Bottoms Newsletter folder, and click on the green “Comment Now” button to access the online commenting form; or 
  • By Postal Mail at: 
    • Great Smoky Mountains National Park 
    • Section 8D/Metcalf Access Civic Engagement 
    • 107 Park Headquarters Rd. 
    • Gatlinburg, TN 37738 

Written comments on the proposed projects must be submitted online or be postmarked by October 31, 2021 to be considered.  

For more information about the proposed Foothills Parkway Section 8D/Metcalf Bottoms Access Improvement projects, including public meeting details, virtual long-in instructions and more, visit the planning website at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/Section8D.”

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