After 52 long-awaited years since the start of construction on Foothills Parkway, the 1.65 mile “missing link” opened over the Veterans Day weekend.
The segment that connects Walland and Wears Valley is the final piece of a 16-mile segment that began construction in 1966. While most of the road work was completed by the late 1980s, the gap was left unfinished when the construction was halted as a result of erosion and slope failure.
“It’s been one of the longest ongoing road projects in the state’s history,” said Jeff Muir, Communications Director with Blount Partnership. “To see the ‘missing link’ completed means that visitors can enjoy another view of the Smokies from the roadway and enhance their experience.”
When it came to construction of the roadway, designers were conscious of the need to preserve the park topography, as well as design with the wildlife in mind. As a result, the roadway allows for animals to migrate under the bridges. The “missing link” of the parkway includes nine bridges, and while four of those were completed between 1999 and 2013, it took contractors seven years and $48.5 million to design and build the remaining five bridges.
According to the park service, the federal government has invested close to $180 million on the 16-mile segment since 1966. Now that drivers will be able to travel 33 miles of the Foothills Parkway continuously, it is sure to add convenience for Blount and Sevier County residents.
More than that, the new accessibility to the scenic views of the Smokies will likely provide a tourist boom in Blount County. With its overlooks that provide unparalleled viewing opportunities into the park and back towards Maryville, this 16-mile stretch has the potential to become a destination of its own.
With this additional traffic, many anticipate that this tourist boom will extend into Sevier County, bringing even more visitors to the already most-visited national park in the country.
“The hopes are that with an increase in visitors hitting the parkway, they will continue to use Townsend as their gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cades Cove,” said Muir. For those that want additional resources when heading into the Smokies, Muir says that there will soon be an app for that.
“Additionally, the Blount Partnership is launching a Cades Cove mobile app at the end of November to give visitors all the Cove information at their fingertips.” The app operates with and without a cellular connection and allows visitors to learn about the nature, history and wildlife within the Cove while also giving hiking trail information and the ability to share experiences.
For MC students, this is just another reason to go out and explore more of our beautiful backyard, now with even more unobstructed views.