It’s the beginning of the end for the “missing link” of the Foothills Parkway.
While crews still are completing the bridges along the 1.65-mile “missing link,” the paving of the entire 16-mile stretch of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley is scheduled to get underway this spring, with a groundbreaking ceremony featuring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., among other dignitaries.
“I grew up hiking, hunting and fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains, a national and Tennessee treasure,” Alexander said when he and Duncan announced a $10 million federal grant for the project in July 2016. “Completion of this 16-mile section of the Foothills Parkway will help the Smokies’ more than 9 million visitors from around the world experience the Park more easily and have greater access to panoramic views of the mountains.”
Congress authorized the Foothills Parkway on Feb. 22, 1944, according to a National Parks Service fact sheet updated in March 2016, but it is the only one of seven congressionally mandated parkways yet to be completed.
Locally, a 6.4-mile section between U.S. 321 in Walland and Carr Creek was constructed between 1966 and 1970, the fact sheet explains. In the 1980s, two contracts were awarded for about 10 miles of road between Carr Creek and Wears Valley, but both projects experienced problems that caused the projects to be suspended in 1989, leaving a 1.65-mile segment uncompleted.
It is this 1.65-mile section commonly referred to as the “missing link.”
The “capstone” project that kicks off this week should enable Great Smoky Mountains National Park to open to the public the entire, finally completed 16-mile stretch of Foothills Parkway from Walland to Wears Valley in 2018, Jamie Sanders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park said.